Walk 2012

Mark had the idea some time ago to design a walk from Weymouth – his hometown, and the location of all the Olympic and Paralympic sailing competitions – to Stratford in London, where the rest of the Olympic Games will take place. The idea is to walk the route during the time of the Olympic Games and to thus participate ourselves with a physical challenge of our own. I think at the moment Mark is planning the route in such a way that we will arrive in Stratford for the closing ceremony of the games, but as we investigate each leg of the journey this may change and the route may get reversed! Mark has set up a blog for the project where we hope to chronicle walks in various ways, and where we hope other walkers who know their stomping grounds better than we do will chime in with what they know about various section of the hike. What we can discover in a weekend of walking is limited compared to the knowledge of place possessed by locals! In this way, hopefully, there will eventually be a big online resource for anyone else who wishes to join us in our endeavour and participate in Walk 2012!

Back in Autumn, Mark explored the Stratford – Richmond leg of the journey, but on New Year’s Day this year, we set out together to investigate the stretch of the South West Coast Path that lies between Weymouth and Bournemouth.

Setting off around 9am and blessed with blue skies, we left Mark’s parents’ place in Wyke Regis and headed for the seafront and the famous Victoria Clock, where revellers gather on New Year’s Eve in Fancy Dress, for fireworks and a toast to the New Year.

The walk along the seafront to Bowleaze Cove was untaxing and fresh, with a light breeze rolling in off the sea, waves foaming around our feet, and seaside-town sights like these beautiful old 1930s beach huts at Greenhill.

Heading up out of the Cove onto Redcliff Point and around the Osmington, the terrain got wilder and muddier underfoot, and the path wound its way through muddy, tangled stretches of woodland. At Osmington, the Smuggler’s Inn nestles in the hillside like a natural feature of the landscape, and as we walked past it tendrils of woodsmoke and the fragrance of coal attested to fires lit deep within its centuries-old walls. The whole area felt like the morning after a wild party and we tiptoed past to the windy, wooden path that leads to Ringstead Bay. Along the way I gathered dead twigs in my hat, to make a fire in my woodburning camping stove.

It is fair to say that there is a lot more faff involved with my stove than with Mark’s supremely efficient gas-burning stove. Good tinder seems to be the secret, of which I had none on that first day. Although I plan on enhancing my Ray-Mears Bushcraft skillz for future walks, on this day I contented myself with the fact that four attempts to light the twigs was worth it in the end for a rustic cup of tea on a beautiful beach.

After our stop we headed on around Burning Cliff towards White Nothe, where the hills started to get steeper and the views more stunning.

A bestiary of creatures lives along the cliffs here, with many rocks having animal names like Bear, Bull, Cow, Calf etc. and this particular rocky outcrop is called Bat’s Hole because of the tiny arch at the bottom.

The path winds gracefully along the undulating lands and is a test of fitness.

This is Bat’s Head, a small rock adjacent to the Bat’s Hole.

When we approached the Bull, The Calf and the Cow, we thought these rocks in the sea looked rather like Whales and wondered if in fact it is these animals and not member of the bovine family that they are named after. Does anyone know? After walking along this spectacular stretch of the South West Coast Path, we passed Durdle Door and made our way down the steep path to Lulworth, where we spent a lovely night in the Lulworth Cove Inn, supping on Fursty Ferret and Pickled Partridge.

There are more photos and reflections on Day I of the walk here.

The following morning we set out from Lulworth Cove and immediately found ourselves out of breath on the steep bath up around the bay! Lulworth Cove is like a fairytale cove, shaped in a perfect crescent, with impossibly blue waters and pretty surrounding rocks.

Heading around the bay, we began the approach to the Lulworth Ranges and MOD land. Because it is uninhabited and often closed to the public, MOD land is a surprising haven to wildlife. We, however, did not stray far from the path to investigate the flora and fauna in detail.

As well as the signs warning us that ‘bit of metal might explode and kill you,’ we had the pressing matter of a few extremely savage hills to concentrate on! Here we are waving weakly at our shadows to keep our spirits up on the particularly mean ascent up towards Halcombe Vale.

The rest of that second day was populated by enormous quantities of steep ascents and descents, which is graded by the SWC path website as being a severe to moderate walk including 800 metres of ascent and 740 metres descent. The flat bits in between were so thick with mud and oomska that they did not provide an enormous ammount of relief and we spent quite a bit of time trying to avoid slipping right off the path and into the sea!

However, by the end of the day (13 miles) and with most of our walking clothes washed and hanging on radiators around our hotel room, we felt thoroughly justified in having a decadent blow out in Swanage. Other bonuses of the day included some breathtaking views, which more than made up for the hills.

This is Chapman’s Pool, where we took our rest before tackling the valley of mud death where I *may* have sworn quite a lot as I slid about helplessly on slick stretches of viscous pathways with nothing but thorny bushes to cling onto for dear life. We had intended to get to Swanage on day 2, but we ran out of daylight and rumours of a wondrous pub at Worth Matravers lured us on to cider, the strange museum at the Square and Compass Inn, and a taxicab to the fabulously archaic Purbeck House Hotel in Swanage. In joyous news, there was a Shepherding Hut outside the pub too; a cheering sight to my eyes indeed. I expect that if I ever do indeed keep sheep, I must improve my relations with mud.

The sun setting over Chapman’s Pool

A shepherding hut outside The Square and Compass Inn, Camra’s Cider and Perry Pub of the year in 2008

A weasel-like curiosity in the Museum…

The next day we met up with Mark’s Dad and Wendy, and began the trek across to Bournemouth. We began with a climb out of Swanage towards the iconic Harry’s Rocks and a very misty view across to the Isle of Wight.

Parting company with John, Wendy, and the ever-excited Springer-Spaniel, Millie, Mark and I headed out across the lovely sand-dunes of Studland Bay.

This entire area is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty, and it’s not hard to see why.

At Shell Bay we said goodbye to the South West Coast Path and took a ferry across to Poole’s Sandbanks – allegedly the fourth most expensive place to live on the planet.

From here we could see our final destination – Bournemouth Pier – and the remainder of the day was a bit of a trudge with our end point in sight and getting just incrementally large with every tired step. I was saved by Mark having kindly carried my MBTs in his backpack; these shoes are just the trick for a not-too-muddy fairly flat tramp across an extremely windy bay and the salvation for wonky toes that have done 35+ miles, mostly comprised of hills. I don’t know about you, but I find that going down hills is particular hard on my toes. Although going up is hard on the legs, my legs haven’t been misshapen by arthritis, so they can take the beating. However, my toes… ah how my toes loved the switch of shoes on the approach to Bournemouth!

The wind was intense, a relentless roaring in my ears. I quite understand why Barbara Parry was so relieved when the wind stopped where she is; it wears on the nerves after hours, I find. Mark doesn’t mind it all, having grown up with the wind and being a great fan generally of the freshness outdoors.

The arrival at Bournemouth Pier was joyous, including much snapping of photographs, and many remarks on how well-behaved Monkl had been all throughout the trip. If Meerkat is the Mascot for The Hub, then Monkl is the Mascot for our walks.

It is exciting to be partaking of this dual adventure of blogging and walking with Mark… I have enjoyed reading his posts about the walk so far and seeing how differently we record shared experiences. And I’ve also enjoyed making my own contributions to his blog with pictures and descriptions of sounds. We recorded a log as we went along, too, which is a bit of an experiment, and which will go on the walk2012 site soon. I’m not sure how to blog ‘together,’ exactly, so we are fumbling about a bit at the moment and trying out a few different things.

There is so much more to explore… around 200 miles in total and who knows how many maps, words, and photos! All part of getting stronger legs, a deeper knowledge of this land that I live on, more landscape inspiration for knitting projects and, of course, more sounds to hear.

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