I catch the train from Weymouth to Wool. This is the nearest I can get to Lulworth Cove by public transport in the winter. By chance, there is a taxi waiting at the station. It costs me 16 quid but there is no alternative.
The taxi driver suggests I start my walk on Hambury Tout. From there it is a downhill walk into Lulworth. I explain that would be cheating. I am walking around the coast and I am doing it sequentially. He tells me he has met many ladies doing the same thing. They walk the whole South West path, often on their own. Their husbands come down at weekends and bring them clean clothes.
“Men have mid-life crises and buy a sports car or get a new wife,” he says. “But women go walking.”
When I get to Lulworth I head up a path to the cliff top. But it turns out to be a dead-end, albeit with great views over Lulworth Cove. Sadly the sun is in my eyes and there is a haze, so the photographs turn out badly.
I walk back down and see the coastal path. It starts on the other side of a huge car park and heads up the hill in front of me. How could I have missed it? The path is wide, new and very crowded. The clocks changed this morning and it is 8:30 am in old time, 9:30 new time. I am surprised to find so many people out and about.
The climb is not too steep but the slope is relentless. I am hot and out of breath at the top – this is Dungy Head. There is much more of this to come. Down again and up again. I am overtaken by groups of young people.
We reach Durdle Door. This famous rock has a hole within it, though which the waves swish. The folded rocks of the Jurassic Coast creates areas where soft rocks lie next to harder rocky layers. Once the cliff surface is breached, the softer rock is quickly eroded and a cave forms. Inside the cavity, the waves work away, extending the space. Eventually the roof collapses and a cove is formed.
With Durdle Door, the cave has long since collapsed but the entrance arch remains. In time, the arch itself will collapse and then only a pillar of rock will remain. I have seen a number of these sad rock pillars on my walking along this part of the coast.
Durdle Door is a popular sight and the cliff top here is fairly crowded as people stop and take photographs. On a flat stretch of ground, a group of school children sit in a huddle. They are holding sheets of A4 paper, while the teacher barks out geological features for them to note down.
I head westwards. The slope rises very steeply and I am heading up Swyre Head – the highest part of this walk. I notice few people venture past Durdle. This section of the walk is a rollercoaster of steep ascents and treacherous descents. I am glad I have brought my walking poles. They make a huge difference to my progress, helping me balanced and propelling me forwards. It is like having four legs.
The sun shines intermittently. From the top of Swyre Head, I have a stunning view of Weymouth Bay.
The final steep ascent is up a huge chalk headland, fittingly named White Nothe. Beyond the point, the cliffs have slipped, creating an ‘undercliff’ of crumbled and irregular slopes, now vegetated. This area is National Trust property.
I walk downwards through wooded areas, the path narrow and winding, and reach Ringstead Bay. Here is an attractive beach, although mainly shingle. I wonder if I can walk along the shore and to my lunchtime destination of Osmington Mills – where there is a PH marked on my map, signifying a pub if I am lucky.
So I walk on shingle and across rock. The shoreline curves convexly. Above me are crumbling cliffs.
I would like to continue along the shore all the way to Osmington Mills. But I can’t see the way ahead because of the curve of the cliff. The rocks become more irregular, the cliff above me steeper, the rocks more rugged and laden with seaweed. I worry about the tide coming in and cutting me off. I worry about going further and having a longer journey back if I retrace my steps.
In the sea ahead I see the wreck of a ship, with its broken timbers sticking up out of the water.
This looks sinister. The rocks look dark and slippery. The tide may be coming in. I begin to think it is very unlikely I can walk to Osmington Mills around the shore.
I chicken out and retrace my steps back along the rocky beach. After a short distance, I see a place where I can scramble up the cliff. Now I am back on the official South West Coast path.
I walk through trees and gorse bushes with yellow flowers.
When I reach Osmington Mills, I am pleased to find there is a pub – a wonderful pub. I eat salmon (it takes over 40 minutes to arrive) and drink cider. It is hot in the sun and I sit outside in a shady spot. Out of the sun, I soon cool down.
My plan was to catch a taxi from here back to Weymouth but I feel fairly energetic and decide to walk the final four miles.
In places the cliff edge has crumbled away and the path is diverted inland.
The sun is in my eyes as I reach Redcliff point and begin the final descent into Bowleaze Cove. A young woman with seven unruly dogs passes me. The dogs bark at me, and although I am not usually frightened of dogs (one of the few species I don’t fear) when two of the dogs approach me, both growling, I feel quite threatened. The young woman calls them away. She doesn’t apologise.
This rather spoils the remainder of the walk on Redcliff Point. I hang back to avoid being too close to the motley crew of dogs. I wonder what this young woman is doing out with so many dogs on a Sunday afternoon. They can’t all be hers, can they?
There are jet skis in Bowleaze Cove. And a strange blue and white holiday complex, still shut up for the winter. The beach is shingled. And fairly crowded.
And up on the cliff I see a kite tangled in a tree. It looks like a rather large kite. Then I realise. It is a hang glider and he is caught up in the branches. luckily, nobody seems to be hurt. There is a man pulling on ropes and trying to shake the glider free. I watch for a while. I don’t know if he succeeds in the end. I don’t want to hang about for too long and I continue walking.
Ahead I can see the spire of the church on the east side of Weymouth which is close to my hotel. It is shimmering in the heat haze. I have to keep reminding myself it is only March.
I walk along a long, straight promenade. It runs for over a mile and is rather boring. In fact, I find this part of the walk very hard going. I am hot. The sun is in my eyes. My right hip hurts. The walk is tedious. I am thirsty.
It is a relief to arrive in Weymouth and to find my hotel.
But this has been a great day walking with bright sun, wonderfully warm weather and some lovely views.
Vital stats: miles walked = 12 horizontally.
Weather = 18 degrees and sunny.