74. Durlston Head to Chapman’s Pool

old quarry works, Purbeck hills, Durlston Country Path, Ruth on her coast walkMy husband drops me off at Durlston Country Park. We were planning to have breakfast in the Visitor Centre cafe but it is not open yet and I am too impatient to wait. With no village or pub on the route today, I have brought a snack for lunch. I will eat it for breakfast instead.

I head down the track towards the Anvil Point light house.

I pass some old quarry workings, complete with a truck on a rail track and with the pulley system used to haul up the Purbeck stone. Many of these quarries were mined by the families who owned the land and dug out the stone with pickaxes. Everybody, including children, was expected to help in these dangerous family businesses.

For some reason, I am feeling anxious about the walk today. I am unfit after a winter of inactivity. I am used to walking on flat land – Ballard Down above Swanage was the first major hill I had come across since Sussex. Everyone has told me how rugged and difficult this section of the South West Coast Path is and how the route is steep and narrow and with treacherous drops.

signpost to Dancing Ledges, South West Coast Path, Ruth walking around the UKThere is nobody about and I am relieved not to see fit walkers with huge rucksacks. On the other hand, perhaps the lack of people is an ominous sign.

Once I start, there is no easy way off this section of path until I arrive at Worth Matravers. According to my map, it is only 8 miles. But will I be up to it?

This little marker stone points the way to ‘Dancing Ledge’. What a lovely name. I must regain a positive attitude – this is going to be fun.

I check my phone and make sure it is fully charged.

The view of the coast is not promising. The sky is dull. Ahead I see a high promontory of land – marked on my map as St Aldhelm’s Head and also know as St ALban’s Head. It has a mass of cloud sitting on its shoulder.

Fog over St Aldhelms Head - Ruth walking around the coast, Isle of Purbeck. Dorset.

As I progress, I watch this bank of cloud, hoping it will clear. It never really moves – just ebbs and flows, up and down, moving gently but never moving on.

startled deer, South West Coast Path, Isle of Purbeck, Ruth's coastal walk.Suddenly there is a frantic flurry of activity in the gorse bushes alongside the path. Something large rises up and bounds away.

It is a deer.

I am worried it is going to hurl itself off the cliff, such is its panic. But it stands very close to the rocky edge, behind a protective barrier of bushes, and watches me with nervous eyes.

Dancing Ledges, Isle of Purbeck, Ruth walking around the coast. Dorset.rock climbers on Dancing Ledge, Purbeck, Ruth walks the coastline.The path does wind up and down, but never too steeply. I relax and begin to enjoy myself.

Ahead, down at sea level, I see ledges of rock with the waves swirling and breaking over the stone outcrops. There are caves. And I see people – climbers. This is a climbing paradise – rocky cliffs, fossils, caves, old mine tunnels.

private sign - warning - St Alban's Head, Isle of Purbeck, Ruth's coastal walkFurther on, I come to a place called Winspit. Here a gully formed by a stream runs down to meet the sea.

There is a fierce sign, warning me that if I die it is not the fault of the landowner. You don’t get the full-scale of this sign from the photo. It must be about 10 feet high. Designed to be unmissable.

There are a few people here, walking. They haven’t been doing the coast walk, but came down from Worth Matravers, the village above the gully that leads down to Winspit.

Beyond the sign is a collection of half-ruined houses and old quarry workings. I later learn that several episodes of Dr Who were filmed here. And Blake’s 7.

ruins and sea - old quarry site - Ruth walking around the Isle of Purbeck There is a stone seat perched precariously above the ruins. I sit there for a while and eat a late breakfast – or an early lunch – and watch the sea crash and thrash at the rocks below.

From Winspit, I make my way upwards as the path climbs up to the peak of St Aldhelm’s Head (or St Alban’s Head, if you prefer). Now I enter a misty environment. I can just about make out the lookout hut at the top of the headland. But the views are spoilt and I am disappointed not to be able to get some great photographs of the route behind or the view ahead.

stone monolith - old quarry workings, St Alban's Head, Purbeck. Ruth on the South West Coast PathJust below the headland are more old quarry workings. This amazing monolith has been left standing. At first I think it is natural. But later, on looking at the photographs, I think it must have been deliberately created, maybe by the miners.

Above the quarry is the green swathe of land – St Aldhelm’s Head itself. In the mist, I can see the lookout station – manned by volunteers – I arrive just as they are changing shifts. And here is something strange. A semi-circular, cage like structure.

As I get nearer, I realise it is a monument to the Radar Scientists, unveiled by Sir Bernard Lovell in 2001. Purbeck was an important site for the development of radar during World War Two.

fog at top of St Aldhelm's Head, Isle of Purbeck, Ruth walking around the coast of the UK

monument - Purbeck Radar - Ruth on her coastal walk, St Alban's Head.I sit at the base of the monument and think of how the Battle of Britain was won by our few, brave pilots – pitted against the mighty German air force. And how radar played an important role.

Radar was our secret weapon. Being able to spot German planes in advance led the Germans to believe we had far more planes than really existed – because wherever they chose to send their bombers or fighters across The Channel, we seemed to have plenty of planes in that area waiting for them. They didn’t know how vulnerable and defenceless we really were.

I set the timer on my camera and take a self-portrait.

steps up Emmetts Hill, from St Aldhelm's Head, Isle of Purbeck, Ruth walking the coastBecause of the mist, I have been unable to see much of the route ahead. So I am taken by surprise to find the land suddenly falls away. Steep steps lead down the hillside and, on the opposite side of this steep, narrow valley, another flight of steep steps leads upwards.

I wish I had my walking poles.

I consider walking around the valley. There is a farm track that skirts it and takes me straight up to Worth Matravers. But I decide that would be cheating.

Down I go and up again.

On the way up, tired and hungry, I make a pact. If I climb up twenty steps I can rest for twenty seconds. If I climb up thirty steps I can rest for thirty seconds. As I approach the top, I am down to ten steps and a ten second rest.

But the climb is worth it. At the top, with less mist around, I have a wonderful view of the beautiful Chapman’s Pool. This is an unspoilt cove, with just a few fisherman shacks. There is no easy access by car. There is no development. Lovely.

Chapman's Pool, near Worth Matravers, Isle of Purbeck, on Ruth's coastal walk

I walk along Emmetts Hill, above Chapman’s pool. The path is narrow in places with a steep drop. I meet a few other walkers, including a group of middle-aged people out with their dogs. I worry the animals are going to fall off the cliff.

Royal Marines memorial, St Alban's Head, Isle of Purbeck, Ruth walking to Chapman's Pool There is a memorial to The Royal Marines up here. It is a lovely setting. There are tables and benches made of stone. It would be a pleasant place to have a picnic. Unfortunately, I have no food left.

A dry stone wall runs along on the landward side of the path. I notice that it contains some larger Purbeck stone pieces with carved words on them. These carry very brief, poetic, statements.

Later, I try to find out more about these stones with their inscriptions. They look very modern and freshly chiselled. On the Internet, I find comments made by other walker and photographers, but nothing official to explain the stones or their origin. I wonder if they are part of the memorial to the Marines.

stone - Exposed to Weather, Emmetts Hill, Isle of Purbeck, Ruths coast walkstone - Dark Brought to Light, Ruth's coastal walk, above Chapman's Pool. Isle of Purbeck.stone - Between Turf and Sky, Chapman's Pool, Ruth's coastal walkHeld By Gravity - St Aldhelm's Head, Ruths coastal walk“Exposed to weather.”
“Dark brought to light.”
“Between turf and sky.”
“Held by gravity.”

Beyond Chapman’s Pool, the path leads down to an aptly named collection of houses – Hill Bottom. From there, a private road takes me back up the hill towards Worth Matravers.

no cakes left, Worth Matravers, Ruth walking the Dorset CoastI am tired now and progress is slow.

I pass a few farms and see this roadside vending station. Cakes for sale. But they are either truly delicious and all sold out, or not yet baked. The shelves are empty. Perhaps it is just as well. I am hungry and wouldn’t have been able to resist a cake or two.

cheese company sign, Ruth's coastal walk, Worth MatraversBeyond the cake stand, I spot this sign for a cheese making creamery – “The Windswept Cow”. There is something very endearing and pertinent about the name.

This has been a walk with plenty to see and, despite the poor views, I have taken some interesting photographs.

Most importantly, I have survived the rugged path and not found it too difficult. I am looking forward to tomorrow.

Miles walked = 10


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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14 Responses to 74. Durlston Head to Chapman’s Pool

  1. Sounds like it all went well in the end. Keep going! We’ll see you in Southport, or North Wales!

  2. wingclipped says:

    What luck to see the deer! Did you go down to Chapman’s Pool and get a fossil?

  3. discjirm says:

    That steep-sided valley to the west of Worth Matravers is evil. I have hated it every time I have walked it – something to do with the steepness of the steps and the utter pointlessness of it. Mind you, it is good practice for the stretch of coast north of Bude 🙂

    Thanks for the journal – it is always great reading.

  4. Those steps are quite a surprise, aren’t they? I felt a little like I’d been ambushed by the terrain when I did them.

  5. Pingback: 76. Tyneham to Lulworth Cove | Ruth's Coastal Walk (UK)

  6. Gill Smith says:

    I’ve just started reading your blog which is fascinating, particularly as a friend and I walked this particular stretch in July 2013. When planning the route we didn’t see where we could stay between Swanage and Lulworth Cove and so thought we could do it all in one day!!! How foolish we were! We had stayed in Swanage and left around 9am. Beautiful weather and scenery. All went well until those steps!! I had a slight groin injury and they just finished me off. I couldn’t lift my left leg high enough and so had to use my right leg first and then drag the left. Managed to get to the lookout eventually but had to make the decision to acknowledge defeat and make our way to Worth Matravers as we didn’t think there would be another point where we could go inland. We were booked into Lulworth Cove that night. It was a Sunday. The only transport was a taxi which cost £40 and to add insult to injury we passed Corfe Castle which we had visited the day before en route to Swanage and it seemed that we hadn’t actually achieved anything.
    However I did manage to continue. We walked to Durdle Dor and back on the Monday and then caught a bus to Weymouth and walked all around Portland Bill on he Tuesday.
    Even without my injury there’s obviously no way we could have completed our original plan in one day.
    I shall follow your progress with great interest. Happy days! 🙂
    Can I ask which blog site you are using please?

  7. D Stedeford says:

    Did you miss the intriguing St Aldhelm’s Chapel on St Aldhelm’s Head which dates from Norman times? Perhaps it was shrouded in mist. I believe the headland is named after the chapel, the alternative name St Alban’s being a corruption of St Aldhelm. St Aldhelm was a 7th century monk and scholar who became Abbot of Malmesbury and later Bishop of Sherborne, in which Dorset town he is still held in great esteem. In the Somerset village of Doulting where the saint died there is a St Aldhelm’s Well (it’s actually a spring) whose waters are reputed to have healing powers. I believe there are still occasional services in the chapel on the headland. Did you also visit the pretty Purbeck village of Worth Matravers only a half mile from the path with its lovely pub The Square and Compass which provides excellent home made pasties. And in the graveyard of the parish church is the resting place of that great son of Dorset, Benjamin Jesty, who, while farming in his home village of Yetminster, discovered how to immunise his family against smallpox using the cowpox virus, having noticed the milkmaids didn’t catch smallpox. This was 20 years before Edward Jenner who got all the credit! We know about BenjaminJesty in Yetminster, which is now my home village!

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