I have been unwell this week with a temp, muscle pains, queasiness and diarrhoea. I am not telling you this to elicit sympathy. I am explaining why today’s walk is so short.
It is May Day bank holiday weekend and we took Friday off work to travel down to Dorset for a long weekend of walking. Sadly, I spent Friday in bed. Today is Saturday and I feel somewhat better, but I haven’t eaten properly for three days. The weather is cold and dull with a mass of grey clouds high overhead, through which the sun tries to shine but never quite succeeds. Occasionally there is a spatter of rain drops.
Last time I was here, Charmouth looked lovely, today it just looks grey.
The new route doesn’t seem very inviting. Can I walk along the beach instead?
I look along the shoreline between Charmouth and Lyme Regis. I see stretches of shingle and greyish sand, with people on. But further along there is a mass of grey rocky stuff blocking the beach. I wonder if I can scramble over it but it is too far away to tell for sure. I don’t want to have to walk back if my way is truly blocked. And is the tide coming in or going out? I don’t know.
So I head up the hill – but I don’t follow the main road; I walk up through steep residential streets instead. According to my map, there is an alternative footpath I can take, cutting through a farmyard. But in the end there are so many signs telling me to turn back, I actually miss the farm track and I find myself walking down the hill again towards the main road.
I feel unduly irritated as I walk along the busy road. Coastal walking? Miles from the sea? Bah humbug. Not a good start.
I feel even more irritated when I pass the exit to the farmyard footpath and realise I could have missed out much of the road walking if I had found my way through here.
The coastal path footpath sign points my way up a hilly slope. I am pleased to leave the road. If you walk this way, be warned; the sign is well hidden and easy to miss. From now onwards the route is pretty and winds up through a lovely old wood. The slope is steep and with the recent rainfall I guess the earth here has slipped too. Tree trunks are fallen across path.
I photograph the obstruction. You can see the path is completely blocked. Luckily, there are some walkers in front of me, a couple of couples. The men do the manly thing and begin moving some of the branches aside to make it easier for their wives to climb over.
I am just about to climb over when I see a man riding a mountain bike coming down the path from above. He stops in time and lifts his bike onto his shoulders and climbs over the fallen tree. Then I scramble across.
At the top of the hill is a golf course. There are some genuinely polite warning signs and I realise that today I really do need to beware of golf balls – the path leads right across the middle of the course and across some of the driving areas.
I make it to the far side without injury and walk down a road.
A car pulls up alongside me and two young women ask me the way to a farm I have never heard of. I wonder why people always ask you the way when you are a stranger in the area?
Further along, I find a footpath off the road again. This path should lead me down to Lyme Regis.
I find myself in a lovely bluebell wood. At this point, I decide to stop my walk at Lyme Regis. Really, I feel too tired and nauseous to carry on further today. But I feel well enough to enjoy the woods and, feeling relaxed because I have made the decision not to continue, I take lots of photographs of the bluebells.
And I come across this rusty old wheelbarrow, surrounded by bluebells. I wonder who Simon is and whether this is his wheelbarrow?
At the other side of the wood are fields and beyond the fields is the sea. I am looking down on Lyme Regis. What a shame the weather is dull and the light is poor for photography.
I walk through muddy fields but I soon lose the footpath. I am following a track through the grass but I realise I am following a cow-path not a human-path when I nearly end up in a smelly, manure covered yard.
Crossing a field, I walk down into Lyme Regis.
I am wondering how I am going to entertain myself in Lyme for several hours until my husband returns to pick me up. But realise I needn’t have worried.
There is a Fossil Festival going on.
A parade is making its way down the main promenade. I am not sure what this contraption is supposed to be – it looks like something out of a Mad Max film. But I think it might be an attempt at a pedal-powered dinosaur. Anyway, it looks fun to ride on.
Despite the gloomy weather, Lyme Regis is crowded.
There is a marquee on the pebbly beach. Inside there are fossils for sale and exhibitions and things for children to do and make. I really enjoy walking through it, despite the crowds.
Afterwards, I walk along the sea front, close to the waves, to the western end of Lyme Regis. By the water, I pass a young man and his father who are trying to assemble something – is it the kite for a kite-surfer? The father and his son are hot and bothered as they struggle to try to pump up the contraption and untangle the strings. They are being watched by couple of young boys who keep getting in their way.
At the end of the beach there is a little harbour area and I walk part of the way along the famous Cob.
By now, it is past two o’clock and, despite the fact I don’t really feel hungry, I think I ought to eat something.
So I stop at a cafe and have a Dorset cream tea. A family comes in – mother and father, grandparents, well-behaved little girl and an extraordinarily sulky and whining little boy. He somewhat spoils the mood for everyone in the cafe. Although I sometimes feel sad that my own children are grown up, at times like this, I am glad I am free and independent and don’t have to constantly work hard to keep small children happy.
After lunch, I walk back to the Marine Theatre, where I noticed there is a performance this afternoon. ‘The complete story of the planet, life and people in 60 minutes!‘ How could I resist?
When I walk into the theatre I find there are only three rows of seats set up in front of the stage. And I realise I am the only unaccompanied adult in the place (everyone else has brought children). Feeling a bit self-conscious, I sit at the back. A few other adults join me. The seats fill up and more rows are added. I am no longer on the back row.
The presenter is a historian and former journalist called Christopher Lloyd. He strolls in wearing a black professor’s gown covered in multiple coloured pockets.
‘Oh, no!’ I groan inwardly, ‘This really is a children’s show. And I can’t walk out now – I have to sit through an hour of this.’
But I needn’t have worried. The show is great and I learnt a lot. Christopher is a natural teacher and made everyone (adults as well as children) feel welcome. He cantered through the formation of the planet, evolution of bacteria, fishes, amphibians, through to dinosaurs, flowering plants, mammals, reptiles and – of course – humans. It is fascinating and over too quickly.
Of the many facts I learnt, this one stands out:- 70% of the water on this planet came from outer space. It was brought here by meteorites from passing comets. Christopher Lloyd invites us to ponder this fact while lying in our baths
After the show has finished, I walk to the eastern edge of Lyme Regis and look back towards Charmouth. An information board tells me that the landslip area is called Black Ven and is a giant mudslide. It has been slowly sliding towards the sea over the course of several millenia, carrying fossils down to the shore. This is one of the reasons Lyme Regis is such a treasure trove for fossil hunters.
As I look back, I realise I could have walked along the beach after all. Despite the warning signs, I am sure I could have scrambled over the landslip safely. Never mind. Too late now. And the bluebell woods were beautiful.
Christopher Lloyd has written many excellent books on natural history and the evolution of the Earth. If you are interested, you can visit his website: What on Earth Books.
Vital stats: miles walked = 4 miles