SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 2: Swanage to Kingston
Friday, April 26, 2013
After a very cold, windy and gloomy day for my first walk on the South West Coast Path, the second day couldn't have been more different - gloriously sunny and perfect for a long walk. From the beach opposite the Swanage tourist office, the views across Swanage Bay were much clearer than when I had left the path there a couple of days earlier (picture 1).
The Coast Path follows the footpath above the beach, first beside Shore Road and then along the seaward side of several buildings before joining the approach road of Swanage Pier. At the pier gates the path bears right to follow a minor road past a pleasant little park before forking left onto a footpath along the northern edge of Peveril Point (picture 2). From here there are good views of the pier and of Ballard Down rising steeply on the far side of the bay (picture 3).
The path is soon forced to turn right up some steps to Peveril Point Road, which is followed to the left for 100 metres before a milestone on the right shows the route climbing up a grassy slope. The Coast Path doesn't go the last 150 metres to the end of Peveril Point, but rather turns sharp right, now climbing above Durlston Bay (picture 4).
After 500 metres of steady ascent, the path passes through a little clifftop park on the edge of a residential area with some rather grand looking houses. A gate takes the path onto Belle Vue Road, where the Coast Path heads left, and soon left again into Durlston Road. Another 200 metres walk up on the left is a gate taking the path into the Durlston Country Park. The path, lined by low stone walls for most of the way (picture 5), winds it's way through the clifftop woods to emerge in front of Durlston Castle (picture 6), which stands atop Durlston Point.
To the left of the castle, another walled path leads downhill and around the end of the point before heading back the other way below the castle and continuing to hug the contours of the cliff with the lighthouse at Anvil Point visible up ahead (picture 7). Nearing Anvil Point, the path passes by the entrance to the Tilly Whim Caves (picture 8), a former underground limestone quarry dating back to the eighteenth century. When quarrying here was discontinued late in the nineteenth century, the caves were opened to tourists, but have been closed since 1976, when rock falls made them unsafe.
Over the next ridge, the path drops down into a coombe before climbing up to the lighthouse on Anvil Point (picture 9). Looking back from the bottom of the coombe, one can see how the quarrymen tunnelled horizontally into the cliff face (picture 10).
The path climbs up past the front wall of the lighthouse compound, so unless one is very tall, one must walk past it before getting a good view of the squat, round tower and the attached keepers cottages (picture 11). The tower was built from local stone in 1881.
From Anvil Point the Coast Path runs along the clifftop below sloping fields, divided at intervals by stone walls. The lack of views inland make this stretch of the path feel quite isolated, though I did pass quite a few other walkers taking advantage of the excellent conditions. The only landmark with which to measure one's progress along this stretch of the path is the prominent headland of St Aldhelm's Head (picture 12), about seven kilometres from Anvil Point.
After crossing the first few fields, a sign by one of the stone walls indicates that the path is now crossing National Trust land called Belle Vue (picture 13). Further on, the path dips down into another coombe, called Blackers Hole, where several sheltered ledges are hidden until one has passed them (picture 14).
Almost a kilometre further, the Coast Path passes above Dancing Ledge (picture 15), another former quarry site where the quarrymen cut a tidal swimming pool out of the rock a century ago.
The path then continues along the clifftop, crossing the National Trust's Spyway Farm before skirting around the next bite out the cliffs, Headbury Quarry, where a group of rock climbers were preparing to scale one of the vertical rock faces. Beyond this is Seacombe Cliff, which also bears the scars of quarrying (picture 16).
The Coast Path is soon forced to make a diversion 200 metres inland to get around a coombe called Seacombe Bottom, before returning to a stretch of the clifftop known as East Man, where I took a short break to admire the view back along the path towards Anvil Point (picture 17).
A kilometre of clifftop walking along the edge of grazing pastures brings the Coast Path to Winspit (picture 18), another coombe where substantial quarrying occurred as recently as World War II. A short distance inland, the Coast Path descends a narrow flight of steps into the quarry, where the entrances to several man-made caves in the rock face show that some of the quarrying was done underground, though the caves are too dangerous to enter.
The path climbs up the opposite side of the coombe to the clifftops of West Man, from which one can see the ruins of old quarry buildings (picture 19) before setting off along the next section of the path around the substantial bulk of St Aldhelm's Head (picture 20).
For two kilometres after leaving Winspit, the path gradually climbs along the edges of fields to the top of the cliffs of St Aldhelm's Head. Below, another disused quarry with some ruined buildings occupies the tip of the headland (picture 21). On the clifftop, the path passes a memorial commemorating research into early radar technology conducted in the nearby village of Worth Matravers during the first half of World War II (picture 22).
A few steps further, the path passes behind a coastguard lookout station (picture 23), where the officer on duty was scanning the English Channel with a very large pair of binoculars.
Just off the path to the right is the small St Aldhelm's Chapel (picture 24), which dates back to Norman times, and I took a short break from the walk to have a look inside.
Having rounded St Aldhelm's Head, the path heads north along the next stretch of cliffs, with spectacular views west along the coast with a mixture of chalk, limestone and shale cliffs (picture 25). A short distance further, the Coast Path makes a very steep descent into Pier Bottom (picture 26) and an equally steep and rather breathless ascent up the other side to Emmet's Hill. For some reason, the view inland along the coombe (picture 27) reminded me of the Windows XP wallpaper.
A few hundred metres after regaining the clifftop, the little cove of Chapman's Pool comes into view, tucked away in a corner below Emmet's Hill (picture 28).
High above Chapman's Pool the path passes a stone picnic bench and memorial surrounded by a stone wall (picture 29). This was built by the Dorset branch of the Royal Marines in memory of marines killed in various conflicts between 1945 and 1990. From this vantage point I could see along the coast as far as Weymouth and the Isle of Portland, still two days walk away (picture 30).
Chapman's Pool lies at the foot of Hill Bottom, another deep and very long coombe. Due to the unstable nature of the cliffs, the Coast Path no longer goes down to Chapman's Pool, but instead heads inland for almost a kilometre, coming in sight of a small group of houses (picture 31) before finally descending into the coombe to meet a minor road. At a signpost where a branch of the Purbeck Way meets the Coast Path, the latter turns left and soon left for a second time among the houses seen earlier.
Crossing a stile beside a metal gate, the Coast Path follows a track above the western side of Hill Bottom, with the limestone peak of Houns Tout rising ahead (picture 32).
Halfway back to Chapman's Pool, the track swings to the right to join a chalky farm track heading back inland again (picture 33). In 100 metres the Coast Path swings left off the track towards a stile.
The normal route of the Coast Path then heads back to the clifftop above Chapman's Pool and turns right to make the steep climb up Houns Tout. Unfortunately, a notice attached to the stile indicated that the path from here all the way to my intended finishing point at Kimmeridge Bay, almost five kilometres along the path, had been closed seven weeks earlier due to multiple landslides. According to the notice the closure was expected to last six months (which turned out to be rather optimistic, as this section wasn't reopened until April 2014).
The only alternative route available was a lengthy detour inland via the village of Kingston, about 2.5 kilometres to the north, then west to Kimmeridge Village and finally back down to the coast. The additional time for the diversion was going to make transport difficult, so I decided to finish the day's walk at Kingston, where I knew I could either catch a bus that runs a few times a day or walk on to Corfe Castle where there is a more frequent bus service.
Returning to the farm track I had just left, I continued north up the valley, which the track follows all the way up to Kingston, first through a large sheep farm, and then along the edge of a large wood (picture 34). Reaching the village, with the track having become South Street, I headed downhill past the parish church (picture 35) to the junction with West Street, where the diverted route turns left. Here I left the path for the day, with 20.7 kilometres walked from Swanage.
My luck was in and I was able to catch a local bus for the short ride over to the town of Corfe Castle, where I had about an hour to wait for another bus up to the railway station at Wareham. The main attraction of Corfe Castle is the shattered ruin of its Norman castle, destroyed during the English Civil War, which towers over the northern end of the town (picture 36). There are also several other points of interest, however, including a stop on the Swanage Railway, which runs preserved steam trains across the Isle of Purbeck on a former branch line. A couple of days after this walk I spent a very enjoyable day riding the railway and exploring the castle.