SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 4: Lulworth Cove to Ferry Bridge
Monday, April 29, 2013
Before setting out on this stage, I went for a walk down on the beach inside Lulworth Cove (picture 1), which looked a little different in the morning light than it had on the stormy afternoon when I had arrived here at the end of the previous stage of the Coast Path.
I rejoined the Coast Path opposite the Lulworth Cove Inn (picture 2) then followed the signposted route across a large gravel carpark towards a wooden gate, beyond which a paved footpath starts a long climb over the 134-metre high Hambury Tout (picture 3). From the summit of the day's first ascent there was a good view back over the cove and along much of the coast covered on the previous couple of stages, as far as St Aldhelm's Head (picture 4).
The view ahead from Hambury Tout is similarly impressive, with the Isle of Portland growing gradually larger across the water to the left, the long seafront of Weymouth in the distance ahead, and a rollercoaster of chalk cliffs in the foreground (picture 5). These cliffs are the westernmost extent of the long chalk ridge that the Coast Path had been following on and off since Old Harry Rocks near Swanage.
At the end of the long descent from Hambury Tout, the path passes above Man-o-War Beach and behind a hammerhead-shaped headland (picture 6). On the other side of the headland is perhaps the most famous landmark on the entire South West Coast Path, the natural limestone arch of Durdle Door (picture 7). Like Lulworth Cove, this unusual formation is the result of there being a band of hard Portland limestone on the seaward side, tilted vertical by the collision of the tectonic plates that form the Earth's crust, with softer layers of clay and sand behind that erode more rapidly once the outer layer of limestone is breached.
Over the next low chalk peak, the path crosses a coombe called Scratchy Bottom before making a rather steep ascent up to the top of Swyre Head (picture 8) - the second Swyre Head on the Coast Path. In a recent survey of the most unfortunate British place names, Scratchy Bottom was voted into second place. It's certainly a nicer place than the name might suggest.
A fairly steep descent from Swyre Head is immediately followed by a climb over Bat's Head (picture 9), a triangular headland with a cave worn through it by the sea. The path down from Bat's Head into Middle Bottom consists of a dozen or so parallel grooves worn into the chalk by countless feet (picture 10). Part of this path was fenced off where the grooves disappeared over the edge of the cliff at the site of a recent landslip.
The path then climbs yet again from Middle Bottom, bearing right once the path levels out to head for a tall concrete obelisk behind the shallow coombe of West Bottom (picture 11). The obelisk is a daymark, placed to help ships to navigate their way along the coast during daylight.
The Coast Path soon returns to the clifftop above an extensive area of landslips known as White Nothe (picture 12), soon passing by a row of former coastguard cottages that are getting uncomfortably close to the crumbling cliff edge.
For the next kilometre the path follows the clifftop behind Ringstead Bay (picture 13), the area of landslips below the cliff being as much as 400 metres wide here. The path starts a long, gentle descent, eventually joining a narrow lane behind a large home perched on a terrace below the path. The lane continues downhill for the next kilometre and a half to the rather ramshackle little settlement of Ringstead on the edge of the bay, passing by the little wooden St Catherine's Chapel about half way down (picture 14).
The path follows the lane through the village, which consists of a small chalet park and a few dozen houses. Beyond the last house, the Coast Path joins a footpath that winds it's way through an area of landslips (picture 15), before regaining the (now much lower) clifftop to run alongside cattle pastures to the village of Osmington Mills, which stretches inland along a coombe for almost a kilometre (picture 16).
Descending into the village, the path squeezes between stone buildings and around the landward side of the Smugglers Inn, to emerge in the beer garden in front of the pub (picture 17), where I stopped for a nice lunch and a pint before continuing on my way.
The Coast Path joins the road running inland through the village, turning left onto a narrow path after about 300 metres. This path leads up to the corner of a field where the main route of the Coast Path bears left along one edge while an alternate inland route that bypasses Weymouth and Portland, the South Dorset Ridgeway, heads along the right edge. For now I stuck to the main route, though I might come back and walk the South Dorset Ridgeway another day.
Leaving the field via a stile, the path passes to the landward side of a round barrow before heading downhill and through a large patch of scrub that has taken over an area of old landslips. Emerging into the open on the other side, the path climbs a grassy slope where there was a long crack showing the beginnings of a new landslip (picture 18), the land on the seaward side having dropped about a foot so far.
The path soon leads downhill to a minor road, which is briefly followed to the left along the perimeter fence of an outdoor education centre before the route crosses a stile on the right to join a path that hugs the low clifftop for the next kilometre to Redcliff Point (picture 19). The path shortcuts across the back of the point, a good spot from which to view the Osmington White Horse, cut into the side of a hill a few kilometres inland (picture 20). The figure, which is 85 metres long and 98 metres high, depicts King George III riding his horse and was first cut in 1808.
The route of the next section of the Coast Path has recently changed. The old route continued along the clifftop to Bowleaze Cove, but repeated landslips have eaten away at the path (picture 21) and the route has been permanently diverted, bearing inland from Redcliff Point to join the road that runs parallel to the coast behind the crescent-shaped Riviera Hotel (picture 22).
The road is followed past the hotel and between a beachside amusement park and a very large chalet park that make up the bulk of the village. The road is followed uphill out of the cove beside a grassy meadow, soon curving left and descending among the houses of Overcombe to reach the beginning of a long promenade beside the shingle beach of Weymouth Bay (picture 23).
The promenade runs parallel to the busy Preston Road with the wetlands of the Lodmoor Nature Reserve stretching away on the far side of the road. After about one and a half kilometres, the road bears away and the Coast Path continues along the promenade, passing the first houses of Weymouth (picture 24).
Beyond the two long terraces of houses, the path passes a bowling green, tennis courts and a long row of upmarket two-storey beach huts (picture 25). Further along, after some more houses, the road comes back in beside the promenade, now in the main part of Weymouth's seafront, with mainly Georgian buildings lining the other side of the road, most of them now hotels.
The promenade soon passes memorials for British soldiers (picture 26) and their counterparts from Australian and New Zealand (picture 27). A couple of blocks further down the seafront is the Jubilee Clock (picture 28), built to celebrate Queen Victoria's golden jubilee in 1887, and nearby is a memorial to American soldiers lost in World War II.
Beyond the Jubilee Clock, the beach becomes wide and sandy, gradually curving around to the large pier (picture 29), from which ferries leave for Guernsey in the Channel Islands. At the end of the beach, the Coast Path cuts across the neck of the pier to Custom House Quay, inside the mouth of the River Wey, which is partly sheltered by the pier. The path follows the road along the quay for about 300 metres to the Town Bridge (picture 30), which swings open to allow boats to move in and out of the large marina around the next bend in the river.
After waiting for the bridge to close, I crossed over and followed the footpath back down-river (picture 31), passing by the jetty of the RNLI's Weymouth Lifeboat (picture 32).
Roughly opposite the point where the path first joined the river, it turns away from the river and climbs several flights of steps to join a shady path in Nothe Gardens (picture 33). The Coast Path follows the path about half way along Nothe Point, the end of which is occupied by a large artillery fort that was built to guard the harbour. A few days later I spent an afternoon exploring the fort, which is open to the public and contains displays on the various uses of the fort over the years, including as a nuclear shelter.
The Coast Path doesn't go right up to the fort but instead cuts across the point and turns back away from the fort to follow the southern side of the point, with views across Portland Harbour towards the Isle of Portland (picture 34). The long breakwater in the picture is one of three built between 1849 and 1906, making the harbour one of the largest man-made harbours in the world.
Leaving the gardens, the path crosses a bridge over the road that runs down to the end of the breakwater, following a worn path up the right-hand edge of a grassy park to reach Bincleaves Road. Fifty metres along the road the Coast Path turns left into Belle Vue Road, which is followed for about 500 metres to a left turn into Old Castle Road. A similar distance down this road is Sandsfoot Gardens (picture 35), where the ruins of the Tudor-era Sandsfoot Castle overlook the harbour.
Opposite the gardens the Coast Path turns right into a side-street and in a few metres turns left to join the route of the Rodwell Trail, which follows a disused railway embankment along the edge of Portland Harbour for one and a half kilometres to Ferry Bridge. There, in front of the Ferry Bridge pub (picture 36), the Coast Path divides, one branch heading left for a loop of the Isle of Portland, the other continuing ahead along the back of the Fleet Lagoon towards Abbotsbury.
This was the end of my day's walk, having walked 23.5 kilometres from Lulworth Cove. At a nearby bus stop I caught a bus back to Weymouth, exploring the town centre for a couple of hours before finding a spot on the beach to watch the sun set over the town while I polished off a meal of fish and chips. Another good day on the Coast Path.