We drive from Weymouth towards Portland where we are booked into the Queen Anne for bed and breakfast. The car in front has a sticker in the rear window that reads “Keep Portland weird”. I sympathise with the sentiment. There is something very unique about Portland. I hope the upcoming Olympics, and the surge of interest the event will bring, leaves this strange little area of Dorset with its character unspoilt.
Anyway, today I am going to continue my walk from Portland westwards. My husband drops me off at Ferry Bridge and I begin walking along the shoreline, heading away from the causeway and away from Portland. Today I only have time for a short walk but I hope to make some progress up the side of The Fleet.
The Fleet is a large, saline lagoon, formed between the mainland on one side and the long sweep of Chesil Beach on the other. The lagoon widens at its southerly end and connects with the sea at Ferry Bridge, where there is a strong current of water at the narrow mouth.
Within the lagoon the water seems calm. Today the tide is low and I see plenty of exposed mud and some wooden structures that I think must be oyster beds.
To my left, beyond the waters of the Fleet, rises the incredible shingle bank that is Chesil Beach. Beyond Chesil Beach I can see the high ground of Portland.
The weather is dull but this is the Good Friday of Easter weekend and there are a few walkers out – not serious walkers – strollers and people with dogs.
Ahead I can see the winding shoreline and the water of the lagoon reaching out into the hazy distance.
I begin to meet more people – strollers and dog walkers. This must mean there is a road and car parking ahead. I have learnt that most people seldom walk more than a hundred yards away from their car!
There is a sign giving information about the Fleet Lagoon, an important nature reserve. You are not allowed to walk by the water. So, I consult my OS map and head up the hill to find where the official South West Coast Path continues.
I walk around the edge of the industrial site, alongside a high fence. This is not particularly scenic.
At the end of this section I meet some walkers (proper walkers with rucksack and poles) and they reassure me. I am on the right path and they direct me down the hill, along the fence, where I reach the shore again.
At least from the higher ground I had an excellent view down onto Chesil Beach and the sea beyond.
The shingle seems remarkably un-vegetated, compared to other shingle areas I have come across such as Dungeness. I wonder if that is because it is constantly on the move? I gather it is moving closer to the mainland by 15 centimetres every year and one day will simply collide with, and become joined to, the mainland.
A section of this coast is used as a rifle range. Although I haven’t reached this area yet, I can see the warning sentry posts on Chesil Beach. If the range is in use, red flags will fly and walkers on the shore are diverted inland. If you were walking along the Beach itself, you would have to turn back.
I don’t see anybody walking along the shingle, just a few drawn up boats and fishing huts.
I did consider walking the ten miles or so along the pebbles of Chesil Beach. However, my experience of walking along the bank during my previous walk in March, convinced me that this was a poor idea. Shingle makes very difficult walking. The pebbles at this end of the beach are large, but would get smaller the further along I walked. And once committed, there is no way off the beach until you reach Abbotsbury, nearly 10 miles.
(If you were brave enough to try it, please let me know!)
Compared to the straight line of the shingle bank, the Coastal Path follows the wanderings of the shore on this side of The Fleet. I am pleased when the path dips down and I find I am walking through a lovely wooded area by the side of the water.
As the ground begins to rise up, I hear voices and meet two women, with stumbling young children and jolting push chairs, coming down the path towards me. “Is it difficult?” they ask me and I explain they won’t be able to get along the path. It is too rough.
As I emerge from the trees, I come across a caravan and camp site. People are out strolling, some in high heels. It always amazes me what people wear when going ‘for a walk’.
Past the camp site, I follow the path as it winds in and out, along the edge of muddy bays. Several times I have to stop to let young lads on mountain bikes get past me.
The light is too dull for good photography but above is the view across the water of the Fleet (called East Fleet in this part) and across a promontory, with Chesil Beach beyond.
Luckily, there is no sign of red flags and I am relieved to realise I can follow the coastal path without deviation.
Up to this point, there have been a few other walkers and cyclists around. In fact, there is a young couple behind me on the path. They seem to decide to take a short cut across the muddy bay, the young man leading the way. I wonder if he has local knowledge of a safe route through the mud.
Then I hear a squeal. The poor girl has sunk into the mud – up to her hip almost – with one leg. She pulls it out and it looks as if she has black leggings on one side. The young man seems amused. I am not entirely sure that it is a good idea to laugh at your girlfriend when she has just fallen in the mud while following your lead!
They turn back and head towards the safety of the proper path. From now on, I see nobody until I approach East Fleet.
The weather might be dull, but the yellow gorse is cheerful. For the first time, I notice the smell of gorse flowers. The Helpful Mammal, another coast walker, mentioned in her blog that gorse smells of coconut. She is right. It does. (The Helpful Mammal has since pointed out that ‘she’ is in fact a ‘he’ – see comments below this post. Just goes to show, you should never assume anything….)
I approach East Fleet and another camp site and begin to see a few more walkers, including these gentlemen out for a late afternoon stroll with their dogs.
Across a field, I find the footpath that takes me around a small chapel and to a track that leads me to a road in the tiny village of East Fleet.
There is no mobile phone signal here. I wait anxiously for my husband and mother-in-law to appear in the car. I wait. And wait. When they do arrive they take me completely by surprise by emerging from the narrow entrance of a bridleway. When I ask what they think they are doing driving along a bridle way, I get a mixed response.
“She was directing me,” says my husband, indicating his mother with his thumb.
“He was driving,” she says, pointing at him accusingly.
We drive back to Portland, following the road this time.
You can read more information about the amazing Chesil Beach on http://www.chesilbeach.org/
Distance = 5 miles