Wyke Regis to West Bexington
It’s the 23rd July 18, myself, Tony Driscoll, David Beech and Brian Corlett have set off in the early hours by train to Weymouth. Today’s walk will be from Ferrybridge, Wyke Regis to West Bexington, Dorset. This is a two day walk, staying overnight in Bridport, somewhere I have only driven through on several occasions. Everyone is really looking forward to it and the weather promises to be really nice, but hot. The worst thing about getting to Weymouth is the three hour journey by train from London. However, armed with coffee, newspapers and a sense of humour, the journey flies by and we are soon on the platform at Weymouth. After grabbing some supplies and three litres of water each, it’s a short walk to the Kings Statue bus stop for our bus to Wyke Regis. The Kings Statue is of George III, who would often take vacations in Weymouth, in fact on fourteen separate occasions, the first in 1789. With his patronage of the town, the king changed the fortune of Weymouth, and a lot of the buildings along the seafront are mostly of Georgian architecture, built during the king’s reign. George III was originally advised to travel to Weymouth to consolidate his recovery from his first bout of serious physical and mental illness, sometimes now interpreted as Porphyria.
From the Kings Statue the bus to Ferry Bridge is around 20 minutes and after a brief stop to set up our GPS watches, we head out onto the footpath that runs the length of the Fleet Lagoon behind Chesil Beach.
The Fleet lagoon was formed when Chesil Beach moved onshore as a shingle storm ridge when the sea levels rose around the North Eastern side of Lyme Bay. It annexed a body of water between itself and the mainland. It stretches from Abbotsbury in the West to Ferry Bridge in the East, where it opens via the channel at Smallmouth into Portland Harbour. It’s over 13.1 km (8.2 miles) long and covers an area of 480 hectares. The width varies from 900 metres at Littlesea down to just 65 metres at The Narrows. The deepest part is in the lower Fleet where it is 4-5 metres deep. Most of the upper Fleet above The Narrows is no more than 2 metres deep. The waters of the Fleet are tidal, being filled and partially emptied twice each day by the ebb and flow of the sea. The Lagoon is also fed by fresh water run-off, streams and ditches along its 8 mile length. Because of this water the Fleet is brackish, neither fresh nor as salty as the sea. It has evolved over the 5000 years and has been described as the finest example of a lagoon of its type within the British Isles. Today a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), it is recognised and as a rare wetland habitat of international importance. Interestingly over 150 species of seaweed, 25 species of fish and 60 species of mollusc have been found in the Fleet.
Pictured here looking south down the Fleet toward Portland is a borough stone from 1935 of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, which was formed by Elizabeth I in 1571. It continued in existence, as a municipal borough until 1974, when under the Local Government Act 1972, it merged into the district of Weymouth and Portland.
Tony leads the way on the South West Coast Path.
The Wyke Regis Training Area was constructed in 1928 by Royal Engineers. Since then, the site has been in continuous use for Royal Engineers’ (regular and reserve) training in the construction of both bridges and ferries, along with other types of military training. The Bridging Camp’s inner training area allows Sappers to hone their skills on everything from raft building to familiarisation with modern weaponry. Due to the close proximity of the lagoon, water based training is held there too. During the Second World War the beach and the Fleet were used as an experimental bombing range by the RAF before and during World War II, because of the low population density of the nearby area. The Bouncing Ball (The Highball bouncing bomb) prototype was tested there and one can now be seen locally at the Abbotsbury Swannery.
Looking North over the East Fleet.
Looking across the East Fleet towards the East Fleet Farm touring camp and camping site.
Nearing Charlestown the foreshore is joined by a small freshwater stream under the mud, which means it starts to get muddy, some being deep. With both foreshores either side of the stream being tantalizingly close, you are tempted to try to find a path across the mud saving you a 10 minute walk around the foreshore. However tentative steps by me trying to see if it was possible, I find it impassable and warn everyone to move back to walk around. Now, when I say everyone, I was then a little surprised to see Brian attempting to cross at the same location and then immediately sinking deep to his knees in the smelly mud. Despite Brian thrashing around, trying to get himself free and calling for assistance, the first thing all three of us do is to reach for our cameras to capture this moment for posterity! I know some will think this a bit harsh but Brian is a known mouthpiece (in a good way), prankster and joker, normally at everyone else’s expense. So this moment of rashness from him was not going to go unrecorded and it even made Tony or (Chuckles) as we call him, laugh and smile, which is a rare event in it’s own right, although to be fair to Tony it’s not really true, he does smile but in a grimacing sort of way! Anyway, it was the highlight of the day and actually the second time this has happened now on my blog. Please remember, the foreshore can be tricky or even a dangerous place, so please take care. Thank you Brian credit goes to you, you’re a star.
Like a pro, Brian goes straight back out onto the mud trying to get himself cleaned up at the water line, but without much joy to be fair, for us this moment will live long in the memory. Like Tony, I am still laughing as I write this up.
The heat has started to build up, as the clouds start to clear from the sky. It’s going to be a hot day ahead with very little shelter. As we head around the East Fleet foreshore you can see the bed of dead seaweed we are walking on, which blankets the foreshore.
I believe this large rock to be a type of sedimentary rock called conglomerate or pudding Stone. There were several large boulders like this on the foreshore and probably more, if I went looking for them. They are naturally composed of fragments of stone or pebbles embedded in a matrix of cementing material such as silica. If any budding Geologists could confirm this it would be appreciated.
A type 25 pillbox that has slipped down onto the East Fleet foreshore, due to erosion. The type 25 is the only FW3 design that is circular, with a diameter of 8 feet (2.4 m), internally 6 feet (1.8). The walls were just 12 inches (30 cm) thick with no internal walls. There were three embrasures suitable for rifles or light machine guns and a small entrance like a low window. This design was made from reinforced concrete shuttered by corrugated iron; this gave the design the popular name ‘Armco’ after the manufacturer of corrugated iron of that name. The type 25 is rare; about 30 are recorded only and Dorset has a large share of the number.
On passing several signs saying cream teas and drinks on the path ahead at Moonfleet Manor Hotel, we didn’t want to pass up the opportunity for a drink knowing that there are not many places on this route to shelter out of the midday sun for at least thirty minutes. So after a short walk we arrived at the magnificent Fleet House, as it was originally known. Built in 1603 by Maximillion Mohune, it was later altered into a fine Georgian house by the Gould Family. When the Second World War broke out, Moonfleet’s then owner, Lady Noble, moved to Bath and the house was requisitioned for use by American and British troops. In 1944, Fleet was a concentration area ahead of embarkation for the Normandy landings. On D-Day, many of the US Rangers sadly left from here and Weymouth for the horrors of Omaha Beach. It is said that the US 1st and 29th divisions together suffered around 2000 casualties, which is just heart breaking.
The house is really nice and you can tell they making a real go of it. But it was more suited for the hotel guests, and wasn’t quite ready for the trade from the passing walking community. High prices, not enough of a selection of both food and drink meant we only stayed for a pint. If they were to develop an area into a tea room, coffee shop and bar selling a selection of ales, I am sure it will prove very popular with walkers and locals alike.
Sadly at West Fleet the path diverts inland around Wyke Wood before we join New Barn Road that runs down past Chesters Hill on the left to the Swannery at Abbotsbury. It’s a shame it diverts, but looking at the map, maybe this is to help protect the Swannery and its inhabitants.
Abbotsbury Swannery is the only managed colony of nesting Mute Swans in the world. The colony can number over 600 swans with around 150 pairs. Written records of the swannery’s existence go back to 1393 but it probably existed well before that, and is believed to have been set up by Benedictine Monks in the eleventh century. The swannery is open to the public between March and the end of October. It has a nice tea room and an interesting time to visit is between the middle of May and the end of June when young cygnets are present. Twice a day at noon and 4pm, mass feeding of the swans takes place.
Dragons teeth, concrete anti-tank obstacles, still remain on Chesil Beach, left over from the Second World War. The idea was to slow down and channel tanks and other mechanised infantry into a killing zone where they could easily be disposed of by anti-tank weapons.
Looking ahead on the hill are strips resembling the ramparts of an Iron Age hill fort, these are in fact Strip Lynchets (long parallel terraces). These were produced by levelling strips of the natural slope in order to produce an area suitable for agricultural use in medieval times.
Nearing the end of today’s excellent walk, our attention returns to Brian’s misfortune from earlier in the day.
Just before reaching West Bexington we return back onto Chesil Beach for a few miles and it gives us the chance to stand on, walk on and look back towards Portland along this magnificent wall of stone. From here it is truly breathtaking and my photos hardly do it justice. I have now seen it from both ends and walked its length, abet with only the Fleet Lagoon separating us from it. On a sunny day like today it will live long in the memory.
Arriving in West Bexington we have to make our way from the foreshore to the village up the hill to find a bus stop on the busy B3157 or a taxi for our onward journey to Bridport and our accommodation. Nearing the top of the village we came across the 16th century Manor House Hotel and its lovely alfresco dining terrace and garden. This hotel, overlooking the sea and Chesil Beach, is a real find and we are soon all enjoying a cold drink from its well appointed bar and cellar. The staff were very welcoming to us and even let us use the free phone to call a taxi, I can not recommend this place highly enough, it’s a gem and one we found hard to leave.
On arrival at our accommodation in Bridport, when removing my boot I found I had my own little mementos from today’s walking adventure, stone from Chesil Beach. It’s been a great day, with great friends and to say I am a little weary from the walk and the heat is an understatement, but it’s nothing that a shower, a nice curry and a few beers won’t fix.