Today I plan a short walk before setting off for my long car journey back home. I park at the Visitor’s Centre in Durlston Country Park. Then I walk back towards Swanage. This is what I call ‘wasted walking’ – that is: walking in the wrong direction and not making progress along the coast. But, without any convenient public transport, I have no choice.
From the high ground near Peveril Point, I can overlook the town. Although overcast, the weather is better today and I enjoy the views.
Just below the headland of Peveril Point, lines of half-submerged rocks reach out into the sea. The noise the waves make, breaking over these rocks, is quite amazing.
This is the beginning of the famous Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site. Over millions of years, and due to the movement of tectonic plates, the rocks in this area have been heaped up into great folds. The sea has eroded away the covering layers, exposing sea cliffs with a fantastic range of layered rocks from different geological periods.
I am not a fossil hunter but, I gather, this area is rich in fossils.
From the Point, there is no access along the coast. I have to walk along residential roads. I do see some steps leading down to a beach below. But there is no way along, so I resist the temptation to go down.
Finding the sea again, I walk along a path through a wooded area. This path is endearingly called “Isle of Wight Road”. It is Sunday and, although still January, there are lots of people walking here today. Old people, young people, families. And joggers. And cyclists. I wonder if the rest of the South West Coastal Path will be as busy as this.
Past the wooded area, the path winds down the cliff at Durlston Head and I walk above the sea, heading around towards Anvil Point.
There are a group of people with a guide. He is pointing out seabirds. I take out my own binoculars and try to follow his directions. (I’m still really useless at identifying birds.) He starts to talk about dolphins. Apparently, in March, you can often see dolphins in the waters here.
I come across a weird monument. A flight of stone steps leads up to a giant globe, displaying a map of the world. Surrounding the globe are stones with quotations carved on their surfaces. Some of the quotations are religious and I thought, at first, this was some kind of memorial.
Later, I learnt this amazing globe, and its surrounding stones, was the creation of George Burt, a local Swanage business man who bought this land on top of Durlston Head. He built a folly (now the ‘castle’ and visitors centre for Durlston Country Park). He also commissioned the Great Globe. The Globe was actually constructed in Greenwich, from local Portland stone. The 40 tons of stone, in 15 segments, were brought here by sea.
From here, the path becomes steeper and its surface rougher.
I pass the Tilly Whim caves. These were old quarrying sites and used to be open to the public. They are closed now. Rock falls have made them too dangerous.
The path rises steeply and I find myself puffing and panting. (This is a little foretaste of what is to come as I progress along the South West Coastal path!).
I walk around a strange, stunted little lighthouse. Later I learn you can rent this as holiday accommodation.
Past the lighthouse, I turn and walk inland, following a track. The narrow roadway is closed to traffic. It winds slowly up a steep hill and I arrive back at the Visitors Centre – George Burt’s wonderful folly, shaped as a castle.
The cafe is open. I wasn’t expecting much, but the cafe is wonderful. It is light and airy, surprisingly upmarket, but reasonably priced, with an interesting menu. I order fish cakes. They take some time to arrive. The staff are friendly but not very efficient. I get the impression this is all very new.
Leading down to the Visitors Centre is a walkway with carved stones, giving a history of the geological and biological evolution of this part of the coast. There are some nice poetry quotations too.
Distance: 1.5 miles of ‘wasted walking’. 2 miles along the coast.
Interesting things to see: sea birds, the Timeline walk and the carved stones with poetry. The globe.
Worst bit: walking along roads near Peveril Point
Best bit: fish cakes in the cafe