Swanage To Kimmeridge Bay Dorset
It’s the 2nd May 18 and a wet start to the day for me and Barry Plant. The forecast today is rain with strong winds, which will start clearing by 11am to bright sunshine. After a great breakfast at Rudd’s of Lulworth B&B, it’s waterproofs on and a short walk to the clock tower shelter for the start of today’s adventure.
The town, originally a small port and fishing village, flourished in the Victorian era, when it first became a significant quarrying port for the fashionable Purbeck marble, Purbeck limestone, or more commonly ‘Purbeck stone. Later its fame would come from being a seaside resort for the rich of the day. Today the town remains a popular tourist resort, this being the town’s primary industry, with many thousands of visitors coming to the town during the peak summer season, drawn by the bay’s sandy beaches and other attractions.
During its history the bay was listed variously as Swanawic, Swanwich and Sandwich and only in more recent history as Swanage. The town is first mentioned in historical texts in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 877. It is stated as being the scene of a great naval victory by King Alfred over the Danes; “This year came the Danish army into Exeter from Wareham; whilst the navy sailed west about, until they met with a great mist at sea, and there perished one hundred and twenty ships at Swanwich.” A hundred Danish ships which had survived the battle were driven by a storm onto Peveril Point, a shallow rocky reef outcropping from the southern end of Swanage Bay.
Outside of the tourist season it is a sleepy town after nine o’clock at night with most shops closing early, which is probably attractive to many of its residents, who enjoy its peace and tranquility.
Durlston Castle, John Mowlem (1788-1868), a Swanage-born man, was a stonemason and builder. He was the founder of the quarrying and construction company Mowlem. He and his nephew and business partner George Burt (1816-1894) wanted to give something back to their home town, which was the source of their Portland and Purbeck limestone, popular for building at the time. John Mowlem built the Mowlem Institute, a reading room and public library, in 1862. George Burt purchased an undulating tract of land covering Durlston Head during the same year. This estate, the Durlston Estate, included quarries that supplied their firm with limestone. Burt then developed this estate as a tourist attraction. Burt established the Durlston Estate upon the crest of the hill and here he built his folly Durlston Castle. The castle was designed by the Weymouth architect G.R. Crickmay (1830-1907) and built by W.M. Hardy in 1886-87 entirely of local stone. The ‘castle’ was never a real castle: it was purpose-built by Burt as a restaurant for the visitors to his estate. The castle played a part in the evolution of radio and telecommunications. A team of Marconi’s engineers used the roof of the castle in the 1890s for some of their early wireless experiments to transmit to the Isle of Wight. The castle passed through the hands of many owners until in 1973 it was bought by Dorset County Council. If you are ever visiting this area you must take a walk around Durlston Country Park and Castle it is a gem.
A short walk further along the coast we arrive at the Anvil Point Lighthouse built from local stone by Trinity House in 1881. It gives a waypoint for vessels on passage along the English Channel, a clear line to the west from Portland Bill and to the east guides vessels away from the Christchurch Ledge and leads them into the Solent. Here, just before the lighthouse, you can watch the waves crash into the sea cliffs, which I understand are part of the Tilly Whim quarries.
Barry walking the coastal path between Anvil Point and Blackers hole. In the background there are two towers both part of a Sea Mark, but for the life of me I can not find their name listed, if anyone does know, please let me know.
The once widespread Violet Oil Beetle (Meloe violaceus) is on the decline in UK, especially in the east of England. The distribution of Violet oil beetles has dramatically shrunk, due to the loss of its habitat of wildflower-rich, semi-natural grasslands. Development, agricultural intensification and changes in land use are thought to have caused their decline.
In May–June the female digs into the soil 20–30 millimetres (0.8–1.2 in) deep cylindrical holes, where they lay a very large quantity of eggs (about 2,000–10,000). After about a month larvae emerge from eggs and climb up on grass or on flowers, waiting to cling to the thorax of approaching potential host insects seeking pollen or nectar. The larvae have an exclusively parasitic life, primarily in the nests of solitary bees. When the host female bee lays eggs in its cells, the first-stage larva of the violet oil beetle eats the eggs of the bee, increases in volume and becomes the second-stage larva, which continues its development eating honey and pollen. The larva, then forms into a nymph and finally the imago (full adult).
This area of foreshore around Blackers Hole sea cave is really pretty, the rain has completely gone and it’s now a beautiful summers day. So it’s off with the waterproofs, with the sun and fresh air around the legs it is a perfect day for walking. A complete contrast to this morning’s wet and windy weather.
Dancing Ledge is a flat area of rock at the base of a small cliff with steps running down from the South West Coast path. Dancing Ledge is so called because at certain stages of the tide when the waves wash over the horizontal surface, the surface undulations cause the water to bob about making the ledge appear to dance.
The ledge is a straight drop off into the sea which is deep enough for small ships to come right up to the cliff edge. This depth was exploited by local quarrymen in transporting the stone away from the area. Some of the stone removed by the quarrying was transported by ship direct from Dancing Ledge, round the south coast to Kent in order to construct Ramsgate Harbour in the 18th and 19th centuries. It never ceases to amaze me when I am walking around the country to read of connections to my home county of Kent, it’s just amazing.
The area around Blackers Hole and Dancing Ledge has no roads running to it, so to get to it you have to walk from parking near Langton Matravers village roughly one mile away, but it is worth it on a day like today. I can strongly recommend this area for the views out to sea and walking.
Ahead lies Seacombe Cliff and Winspit with its Western quarry of Portland stone.
Winspit Western Quarry, In the eighteenth century there were more than two hundred quarries in Swanage, Langton Matravers and Worth Matravers, which provided much-valued building rock for many of the major buildings in London. Stone was quarried from the cliff face and mined using caves and tunnels. Winspit was used as a stone quarry until 1940, when it was turned into a World War Two naval and air base. After the war the privately-owned caves were opened to the public, although some have since been closed due to safety issues and in order to protect the Mouse-eared and Greater horseshoe bat populations. Today it’s popular with climbers and a beach that’s good for swimming make Winspit Quarry a popular place for tourists. The Quarry has been used as a film set for Doctor Who’s “Underwater Menace” and as Skaro in “Destiny of the Daleks” and Blake’s 7 planet Mecron II in episode “Games”. Later in 2012 in the Disney film John Carter as a scene location for the “Orkney Dig”. I did like this online description which is very true, “You’d be forgiven for thinking that sounds as interesting as water in a ditch. Forgiven, but wrong nonetheless!. Winspit is one of those amazing places that make a good walk even more worthwhile. Not only do you have the magnificent scenery from whichever route you choose to access it, but you also have something to marvel at, gawp at and explore!”
The Portland Freestone Monolith a 19th Century cliff-top monolith left by the quarrymen from Old High Quarry on Limestone Cliff at St Aldhelm’s (or St Alban’s Head).
St Alban’s Head NCI Lookout Station, situated at the top of the cliff, to the south of the village of Worth Matravers was
built in the 1970’s at a reputed cost of £40,000. Overlooking the notorious St Alban’s Race, while to the west are Weymouth Bay and Kimmeridge Ledges, and to the east are Dancing Ledge and Anvil Point. When the Coastguard Service abandoned Visual Lookouts in 1994, the Station was returned to the Encombe Estate. The Lookout is leased to The National Coastwatch Institution on a rent of “one crab per annum if demanded”. Today it is manned by volunteers who deserve a great deal of praise for the work they do. When firing is taking place at the nearby Lulworth Ranges a red flag is flown from here on a flagpole and flashing red lights are illuminated on each side of the lookout building. Sadly for us this is where we learnt that a large chuck of our original planned walk from Kimmeridge to Lulworth Cove could not be walked due to the vital work they do at Lulworth Military Ranges. Although we knew of the weekly closure, we just hoped like other ranges on the odd day they may have finished early, but it was not to be our day and apparently the flags are rarely removed early even if planned firing doesn’t take place. So I will return at a later day to complete that small section, which is just another good excuse to come back to this beautiful area.
St Aldhelm Chapel, is a tiny Norman chapel that stands 354 feet above sea level on the headland at St Aldhelm’s Head (St Alban’s Head). It is still in regular use today and is dedicated to St Aldhelm, the first Bishop of Sherborne, who died in 709 AD. The chapel is a rather unusual square stone construction, built in the late 12th century. This lovely chapel is built within a series of earthworks. These earthworks probably enclosed a roughly circular pre-Conquest Christian enclosure, perhaps some form of monastic settlement and it’s pictured on this page’s title photograph.
From St Aldhelms head you get a lovely view of the Isle of Portland and you can just make out Portland Harbour and Wykes Regis area of Weymouth. Also from here you get to see the infamous limestone Worth Matravers hills or sea cliffs. For anyone walking the South West Coast path, this area is known for its beauty and it’s challenging steep climbs, especially on a hot summer’s day like today. I was interested to read on Wikipedia, that in 2004, local fishermen were targeted with a sabotage campaign by the so-called “Lobster Liberation Front”, a fringe animal rights group operating in the area.
As I say steep, but fun.
Built by the Royal Marines Dorset Branch Association (since renamed the Poole & District Branch) this memorial table and garden commemorates the men of the Royal Marines who gave their lives since 1945. There is special mention of those who died in the Falklands War, in the Middle and Far East, in Northern Ireland and those killed by the IRA bomb at the Royal Marine School of Music in Deal Kent on september 1989, another sad connection to my home county. Lest we forget.
As the day warms up and the geography gets even tougher, Baz shows signs of fatigue.
A steep climb up Houns-tout Cliff gives an excellent look back at Chapman’s Pool below from Egmont Point and further ahead along the Kimmeridge Ledges past Eldon Seat, Rope Lake Head and Clavell’s Hard. With clear views out to sea and over to the Isle of Portland, it has got to be one of the best places to stand on the south coast on a Summer’s day.
From the Clavell Tower you get your first look of Kimmeridge Bay and the danger red flags enclosing the military range on the far side of the bay. This area is a Marine Wildlife Reserve and visitors are encouraged to go rock pooling on its rock ledges. It is also considered to be the safest place in dorset to go Snorkeling. The Wild Seas Centre at the end of the bay encourages all to get involved with easy to view life on the shore and in the shallow waters of the bay.
Clavell Tower, also known as Clavell Folly or the Kimmeridge Tower, is a grade II listed Tuscan style tower built in 1830 by Reverend John Richards who added Clavell to his name after inheriting the estate in 1817. The observatory or folly lies on the top of Hen Cliff just east of Kimmeridge Bay. It is now a Landmark property and in August 2006 was moved 25 metres back from the crumbling cliff edge. The relocation project cost nearly £900,000. Each of the tower’s 16,272 stones were removed, numbered and photographed by engineers and specialist builders, before being reassembled slightly inland. The local Coastguards used it as a lookout until the 1930s, when it was gutted by fire. The desolate condition of Clavell Tower was the inspiration behind Baroness P. D. James’s prize winning 1975 novel The Black Tower. The tower was used by Anglia Television as a principal location in their six part adaptation of the story starring Roy Marsden in 1985, and featured in the music video for The Style Council’s 1985 single “Boy Who Cried Wolf”. The location was also chosen for one of the five locations for the installation of sculptures by Antony Gormley to mark the 50th anniversary of the Landmark Trust. Sadly the sculpture fell into the sea in September 2015.
At kimmeridge Bay there are several type FW3/25 pill boxes and anti tank blocks. During World War II, these bunkers were used for the defense of the United Kingdom against a possible enemy invasion. One of the pill boxes has fallen from the cliffs giving a rough indication of coastal erosion. They were built in 1940 and into 1941.
lease note, as mentioned earlier with the range flags up it means we can not walk any further along the coastline today. So after one more look out into the bay it was time to find a taxi to take us to our accommodation at the Lulworth Cove Inn further along the coast. However we will return to complete the six mile stretch sometime later in the year. Kimmeridge village is one mile from the bay and our best hope was to walk to the village on higher ground to get a phone signal and call for a taxi from Corfe Castle. As we neared the village I was surprised to find my phone got a full signal and I was able to call Corfe taxis earlier, who provided us with a taxi without issue. However as we entered the village to our taxi rondevu point, we noticed a house advertising a local taxi service operated my a lady from the village. So if this ever happens to you, all you have to do is ring the bell and ask at the house first saving you some valuable time and money. 14.18 miles.