My 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just 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.
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.
Because 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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