I walk down from Cogden car park to the shore, where I stand and look back along the shingle strip. This leads in an unbroken sweep, first hugging the shore and then separating to form the bank of Chesil Beach, all the way back to Portland, three days walking behind me.
At Cogden Beach the pebbles end and sand begins.
I turn right and begin walking north-west along the beach, passing fishermen. I am hoping to reach Charmouth or, if I am lucky, Lyme Regis before the end of the day. I walk on a raised grassy bank and past holiday statics until I come over a slight rise and find I am looking down on a pretty little cove – Burton Beach.
Ahead, beyond the cove, I can see a wide bay with high cliffs and lower land beyond. Even with the zoom lens on my camera, it is too hazy to make out details but I think Lyme Regis lie behind the largest promontory. And is that Exmouth in the far distance? I wonder how difficult the walk is going to be.
The cliffs here look much softer than the hard rock of Portland. The colour is almost bronze.
There is is an easy, grassy, wide walk, along the top of Burton Cliff, following the coast line. Quite a few people are walking around, including families with young children and push chairs. I feel a bit self-conscious in my full walking kit with rucksack, boots and poles (although later I am very pleased I brought my poles with me).
The beach is slightly spoilt by the holiday park that sprawls across it. Due to the park, there are plenty of people around and on the way down I meet groups of sweaty people coming up the steep path towards me.
A small boy looks at my sticks longingly and asks me where I bought them from. A very large man with a red face asks me if it worth getting to the top. A group of young adults are struggling with flip-flops and they slip and slide on the steeper bits.
I feel quietly smug now. I’m wearing good walking shoes and I have my wonderful poles (£12 from Lidl) and my water bottles and map and rucksack. It is on days like this that I almost feel I’m a proper hiker.
At the bottom of the cliff, I cross the stream using stepping-stones and begin to walk along the shore. I walk close to the edge of the waves and from here I can’t see the caravan park because it is hidden behind the rise of the beach.
At the other side of the beach, the official South West Coast Path runs up the hill and over the top of the cliffs. But I stick to the beach and walk along the sand, while the cliffs tower above me. With their horizontal ledges and crumbling surface, they provide a great nesting place for sea birds. Unfortunately, with so many people with dogs and young children running around, there is little sign of birds today.
Ahead, I see a quay, reaching its finger out into the sea. This is West Bay, the little port where the River Brit meets the sea. It is almost an extension of Bridport, which lies just to the north.
West Bay is surprisingly pretty with a horse-shoe shaped harbour and a quay running around its perimeter, with food shops, cafes and restaurants. I am tempted to stop for lunch, but it is a bit early yet and I have my sights set on lunch at Seatown. Why Seatown? Partly because of the name – very apt, and partly because it has a good pub – according to the Internet.
Before long, the ground drops down to the sea again. I am at Eype’s mouth, where there is another little stream crossing the beach and more stepping-stones.
After this, the ground rises steeply and I struggle to climb the slope. I am growing tired and hungry.
When I eventually reach the highest point, Thorncombe Beacon, I need a rest and a drink. But there are some great views up here. Behind me, to the south-east, is the sweep of Lyme Bay, and I can trace the route I have come, past the crumbling Burton Cliffs and all the way back to Portland.
Ahead, to the west, I see the coast curving around and can make out a distant town – Lyme Regis? Closer ahead, I see another high hill, with grey slopes and a strip of paler yellow earth near its summit. From my map, I guess this must be Golden Cap – the highest point of my walk today. I am tired already. Will I make it?
I walk down a gently sloping grass path, which grows steeper towards the bottom. Now I find myself descending into yet another river valley. Good, this must be Seatown and time for lunch.
Crossing over a small bridge, I find the pub on the other side is crowded. It is nearly two o’clock. I order food and sit outside with a cider. There is plenty of people-watching to be done. There are locals and tourists and young and old and dog-lovers and families and groups of young people.
I remember it is Easter Sunday.
I spend a good hour here, enjoying the surprisingly warm sunshine and the hustle and bustle of people.
From the area where the fete is being held, a man with a megaphone calls out the name of the winner of the raffle. Or it might be the winner of the duck racing competition. In any event, the winner seems to have left. There is no-one to collect his or her prize.
The beach here is lovely. I am tempted to linger and have a cup of tea. But ahead I can see the cliff of Golden Cap with Lyme Regis beyond. I still have a long way to go. Thinking about it, and checking my map, I think its unlikely I will get to Lyme Regis today. I text my husband and give him my ETA for Charmouth.
From the top there are great views. Unfortunately, the far west reaches of Lyme Bay are lost in the blue haze of the horizon. Out there must be Sidmouth and Exmouth and Torbay beyond. But I can’t see the detail, only the blue curl of distant land along the edge of the bay.
The way down from Golden Cap is steep and I am glad of my poles. I can see a beach below and I wonder if I can get down to the shore and walk along the flat to Charmouth.
That idea – of walking on the flat – seems very tempting. I seem to have been going up and down steep hills for most of today.
Before I leave the heights of Golden Cap behind, I take this photograph of three youngsters sitting on the grass with the fabulous view of the east side of Lyme Bay in front of them.
As I come down, the sun goes behind clouds and the light begins to fade. I take a photo of Lyme Regis, using my zoom lens. There is the famous Cob. And beyond Lyme Regis, the light on the sea is silver against the blue-grey line of the far coastline.
If there is a way down to the beach, I miss it. Instead, I walk over fields and have to make one last, weary climb up a hill before I can head down into Charmouth.
But I come across a sign on a stile. The sign is faded and rain-stained, but it says the footpath is closed due to land slippage. An arrow points me to the route of a diversion. My heart sinks. I look at my map. The diversion takes me north to a road and, while only being a mile longer, I don’t want to walk the extra mile, especially if I have to finish my day’s walking by trudging along the edge of a busy road.
I phone my husband to relay the bad news. But the signal is poor and we get cut off. While I wait for my mobile to find a connection, a couple come up behind me.
‘Don’t take any notice of the sign,’ they advise. ‘Nobody does.’
‘Is it safe to continue?’ I ask.
‘Yes, we’re going down. We’ll show you the way.’
In this photo (to the left) you can see the corrugations of the land slide. There are small wooden posts in the ground with markers on them. I guess they are measuring to see if the land is still moving.
The route is easy although the path is narrow at times. Then we come to a place where the ground has fallen away. The couple show me how to walk along the edge of remaining firm land, alongside a barbed wire fence. We have about six inches for foothold on this side of the fence.
Below me is Charmouth – set in yet another river valley. Here the River Char empties into the sea. And very pretty it is too. I cross a bridge and meet my husband and his mother.
Before heading home, I take one look back at the hill I have just come down. The heights of Golden Cap are hidden from view now. The walk looks easy from this vantage point.
Distance walked = 11 miles
Highest climb = from sea level to Golden Cap – 191 metres (627 feet).