Lyme Regis beautiful in sunshine. And I am feeling better; still no appetite, but definitely improved compared to yesterday.
I linger taking photographs, but remember I have a long walk planned today and the route is going to be tough. I better get going.
There is wild garlic out. And bluebells.
At the top of the wooded slope I come out into open land. There are great views across down to Lyme Regis and the coast beyond. I walk through farmland and past grazing animals. I meet young families with push chairs. At some point here, I cross over the boundary from Dorset into Devon.
I come across warning signs. I am entering the Undercliffs. This is my last chance to leave the Coastal Path. Have I got good walking boots and adequate water? From this point onwards, there is no public footpath leading inland. Walkers are committed to the seven mile walk between Lyme Regis and Seaton with no exit points. It will take about 4 hours.
For a moment I suffer from a little anxiety. I am still weak from my recent illness and I am walking on my own. My mobile phone signal is only intermittent. Is this wise?
But I have water, walking poles, snacks, maps and some experience of walking across difficult terrain.
Yes, I can do it!
However, despite all the warning signs, the I find I am walking along a wide path with a smooth gravel surface. Is this supposed to be difficult?
This is more like it!
The path goes up and down, following hollows and bumps in the woodland. I walk across tree roots that tumble across the path and form a mesh like a giant spider’s web, made of wood. I walk through mud and creep along ledges. I scramble up steep slopes, climb over tree trunks and slither down inclines.
In some of the steepest parts of the path, wooden steps have been placed. These are partially helpful as they prevent me slipping down muddy slopes, but the height of the ‘step’ is always just too deep for comfort.
Light filters through trees. On either side are wooded slopes. I am walking along a wooded gully. I walk past primroses, bluebells, ferns and vast swathes of wild garlic – smelling more pungent as day progresses. There are butterflies and insects buzzing around.
I experience one of those joyous moments of complete connection with the landscape. There is only me, these wonderful woods, the plants, insects and the sound of birds. Yes, the best thing of all is the lack of any man-made sound – no cars, no planes, no people – the only thing breaking the silence of the woods is the sound of bird song.
I meet very few fellow walkers. When I do, and hear the occasionally sound of people talking, I become unreasonably irritated. I resent the chatter and slightly strained laughter. How dare these people disturb my peace and interrupt the birds?
Watching couples walking together is interesting. In general, the man is rushing ahead – striding purposefully. The women are usually tailing behind – looking somwhat overtaxed.
At times like this, I am glad I am walking on my own.
I allow myself to be overtaken. And, sometimes, I even overtake people ahead of me.
I reach an area where the trees thin and the I can see the sea. The blue expanse of water and sky comes as a welcome change from the pressing presence of greenery around me.
Where the landscape wides out, I find National Trust signs with information about this wonderful landscape. Formed from landslips over the past few centuries, the woods are relatively young. But the shifting slopes are unsuitable for sustained efforts at farming (although there has been some attempts at agriculture) and so the plants have established themselves without the influence of human kind. This explains the luxuriant wildness of this section of the coast.
By the side of the path, a family are sitting on the grass having a drink and a snack. I am growing hungry and I stop for a rest and eat some nuts with a drink of water.
I hear one of the children asking why that woman is walking here with walking sticks. They mean my poles of course. And I am so glad I brought them today. They have helped me keep my balance through mud, over the uneven carpet of tree roots and helped support my weight as I climb up and down.
The second half of walk seems to drag. Having really enjoyed the first couple of hours, I am now getting tired of wood walking! But it goes on and on. The greenery around and above seems somewhat claustrophobic. I begin to long for sea views.
I meet a large group of Ramblers coming towards me. Most of them look both much older and much fitter than me. There is one large woman – red faced and huffing – who is clearly finding this path difficult.
After the ramblers, I meet very few people.
Finally, I begin to head upwards. Here is an area called Bindon Cliffs and a National Trust sign explains how this area suffered a landslide on Christmas Eve 1839. It was quite an event and one of the first landslips to be scientifically observed and monitored.
I reach the top of the slope and find I am out in the open, walking along the side of farmers’ fields and heading inland. I follow the official South West Coast Path as it heads inland and down a muddy lane.
Seaton is below me and my husband texts me to tell me he has arrived and is looking for a place for lunch. But first I have to cross the obligatory golf course. From here, I walk down a very steep tarmac road and cross a bridge, heading for the seafront.
I am pleased to meet my husband on his bike on the promenade. I check the app on my iPhone. I have walked 7 miles and it has taken me 4hrs 30mins. This snail’s pace is a record, even for me!
While walking through the endless woods, I had planned to stop walking here. But I get my second wind after lunch.
Leaving the pub, I follow the seafront to the western end and continue walking up the road and then up a very steep lane. I follow the South West Coast Path, following the footpath signs, towards Beer.
This section of the walk is lovely with great views. It is slightly spoiled by the sheer volume of people out walking today. The sun is shining and it is reasonably warm.
Beer is perched on a very attractive vantage point above a lovely little cove. It seems to live up to it’s name – there is a pub and people out drinking and enjoying the afternoon.
From here, I follow a steep road upwards. Then a wide grassy path continues up towards the point – Beer Head. I enjoy great views on the way up – looking back at Seaton and the cliffs. I am amazed at the change in colour – from the deep red sandstone cliffs to the east of Seaton, to the paler cliffs of Beer. Beautiful.
Further in the distance, looking eastwards, I can see the walk from Seaton to Lyme Regis along the Undercliffs (Lyme itself is hidden in a fold of the coast), the tall hump of Golden Cap and the stretch of flatter lands beyond, past Abbotsbury and along the low strip of Chesil, all the way back to the blue, brooding hulk of Portland.
It is with sadness that I turn the corner, round Beer Head, and leave Portland behind. But I am rewarded by a great view of the bay ahead.
The sun is in my eyes and the light is poor for photography. Is that Exmouth ahead? And what is beyond? Torbay?
The high ground around Beer Head is called South Down Common. There are people flying kites, walking dogs, playing with their children. It is an easy walk, I think, to Branscombe Mouth, where my walk today will end.
I haven’t looked at my map carefully enough and am taken by surprise when the path seems to disappear over the edge of a precipice. I realise it must be a path, not a joke, because I hear some swearing and three teenage boys hurl themselves over the edge and collapse on the ground, groaning, in front of me. A few minutes later, the rest of their family group appears – huffing and puffing with relief as they reach the top.
I look down on big rock pinnacles – Sherborne Rocks. It’s very steep – winding down the side of a cliff. There are steps (or more like a ladder) and this makes it easier. Of course the views are wonderful. I stop to take photos but don’t linger as I am feeling light headed with vertigo.
This slope must have been a landslip area in the past. After successfully navigating the steep upper steps, I walk down a more gentle slope, through trees. I pass another group of middle aged people with an older woman (grandma?). They look tired already. Will they cope with steep climb ahead?
I am almost at sea-level and, when I see the path is heading upwards, I am tempted to drop down onto the beach. Walking the rest of the way along the flat seems appealing. But the beach here is shingle. It is steeply banked and the tide is high. I guess it won’t be easier after all. So I stick to the proper path.
As I suspected the path rises again. It is quite a scramble in place.
‘Excuse me,’ comes a voice from behind. I am startled and stop suddenly, only to be overtaken by a man. He is running!
Finally, I emerge from the steep path and find myself standing at end of a track, that winds through a holiday cabin area. I walk along the track and across a field, down towards the beach.
Branscombe Mouth has a shingle beach and a small stream flowing into the sea and a crossing ford and a restaurant and an icecream kiosk. I hurry down, anticipating a cup of tea, or an icecream, or a glass of cider. Unfortunately, everything closes at 6pm. It is now 6.05.
I wait for my husband to arrive and read an information sign.
This is where that container ship – The Napoli – broke up. I remember seeing it on the news. The containers washed ashore and contained all sort of things, including BMW motorcycles. Treasure seekers descended on the area. Later the wreck was dismantled and towed away for scrap.
The only thing left is the anchor – which remains here on this quiet beach.
Later, as my husband and I drive away along tiny, single track roads with infrequent passing places, we imagine the congestion that must have ensued when people began arriving with vans and trucks to take away the loot from the beach. It must have been truly chaotic.
Miles walked = 10
High points = the beautiful woods