When we had mentioned to anybody that we were planning on hiking along the Jurassic Coast, the reaction was always the same: “Oh, it’s a gorgeous place! But veeeery difficult to hike.” The latter usually was underlined by an upward and downward motion of the hand, drawing a steep curve in the air.
We were a bit scared of that description, and at the same time anxious to finally see this wondrous coastal region, filled with remainders of the last 185 million years of earth history. It turned out that the people were right: It was one of the most magnificent places we have been in, but the privilege of taking in the breathtaking scenery came at a high price. Continuous change in altitude and precarious, often muddy and unstable paths demanded a lot of physical strength and slowed us down quite a bit. The weather was great most of the time, allowing for the wonderful pictures we will share with you in this post.
Day 253 of our hike was a beautiful and strenuous day. We are still amazed how many different ambiances we can see within only 24 kilometers. Starting from Swanage on a grey morning, we were soon on top of the cliffs overlooking the sea. The sun came out and we reached a National Coastwatch station, where friendly volunteers showed us the point we were heading to through powerful binoculars. It seemed so close that we even didn’t mind the steep stairs to get down into the valley and back up again. Once we were on top, though, it started raining, the path became really slippery and there were a lot of ups and downs ahead. Another bit of relief came with the evening sun, which created a perfect rainbow. After stopping some minutes to enjoy the spectacle, we had to hurry, because it was getting dark very soon and the path hadn’t improved. Thanks to our headlights, we made it safely to the B&B, where we had to clean a lot of mud off our clothes. After a good shower, our host kindly gave us a ride to a nearby pub for dinner.
The following day promised to be a very special one: Not only would we cross a military exercise range which only opens on a few days a month, we also had company for this adventure. Betty and Christopher drove all the way from Bristol to join us for a day of walking and another one of relaxing. The walking part, from Kimmeridge through Lulworth Range until Lulworth Cove, was very exciting, as you can see by the fotonovela below:
Actually, it was the only time on our walk, that we had to abort climbing a hill (the last one before our destination), due to the strong wind. We preferred walking inland on a boring road to being blown off the cliffs.
Then we went for a stroll around Lulworth Cove, where Betty, the paleontologist of the group, got very excited about the rock formations in different layers, while us laymen admired the black-and-white pebbles at the beach. We had a great day together, enjoying the patches of sun and exploring local pubs and ciders.
In the morning of day 256, we said farewell to Betty and Christopher. There was still a lot of Jurassic Coast ahead of us!
The first attraction was Durdle Door, a curious rock formation in limestone, which draws thousands of visitors every year. We were lucky to have it for ourselves for a moment. The path continued up and down the cliffs, on muddy ground, or through narrow ditches which have been formed by many feet before us. At the end of the day, we checked into a hotel which should be buzzing with guests in the summer months, but was almost deserted in January. The view from the terrace of our room was surreal: Palmtrees swaying in the evening sun, a long, half-moon-shaped beach in the background.
During the next three days, we got to enjoy the Jurassic Coast in its full splendour and variety. We walked along the beach front of Weymouth and passed its colourful fishing port, which brought back memories of the Netherlands, admired the view over the Portland island and went alongside Chesil Beach. This long-stretched beach is a natural protection for 29km of the Jurassic Coast and consists of shingles in decreasing size. Legend has it that smugglers, who arrived at the beach in complete darkness, could tell at which part they have stranded due to the size of the shingles. In order to get to our inn for the night, we had to turn inland. The South West Coast Path, that we were following, would have led us closely around a military range. Different from Lulworth Range, this one was in full action on that day. Seeing the red flag (a sign that shootings are happening) and hearing the machine gun shots, we decided to take another route, far away from the action.
We returned to the beach the following day. Fortunately, there was a path next to it, so we could enjoy a day of flat hiking without the difficulty of walking on loose shingles. When there was only one kilometer missing to our lodging, we realized that we had to climb up a steep hill to get there. Our hosts made more than up for the effort by serving us hot tea and homemade cake in the airy lounge, overlooking the coast. From the panoramic window, we could watch a thunderstorm, which had kindly waited for our arrival to roll in. Also in this B&B, the owners were so nice as to drive us to the next pub, where we could have dinner. The landlord had a hard time debating wether he should stay around for the weekly lottery and enjoy a pint or two, but ended up driving home and returning later to pick us up again.
On our way to Chideock, a friendly town tucked away in the hills, we met a Polish walker on one of the especially muddy parts. He was properly equipped with Wellies and his dog didn’t mind the mud, either. We enjoyed chatting with him about our trip and remembering our time in Poland. It was not only walkers we met on that day. We also saw golfers, enjoying the sunshine and the view from the top of the cliffs, and even a group of courageous swimmers!
On day 260, we followed the indications of our landlady to get on top of the Golden Cap, the highest point of the south coast of England. From there, it was all downhill (in a good sense) until the charming costal town of Lyme Regis, where we spent the afternoon and dinner time. We were expecting Zaki, our next hiking companion, who was driving in from Birmingham, a good 200km away. For logistical reasons, and for the pleasure of hiking without our backpacks, we had chosen a lodging at the destination of our next hiking day, in a town with the wonderful name of Beer. We stayed in a cosy B&B, where the landlady did everything to make us feel comfortable.
She was an essential piece of our hiking logistics the next day, by driving us back to Lyme Regis on a freezing cold January morning. For the first time, temperatures didn’t rise above zero and the puddles had an ice layer. We even were missing our backpacks, as they provided warmth and protection to our body. Right at the beginning of our hike, we had an unwelcome surprise: One section of the path was closed due to a landslide, which would mean we would have to walk on the road. We decided to give it a try, and received helpful advice on the way by a friendly gentleman, who was hiking on the same path. He explained us how to walk around the landslide, so we could still enjoy the wonderful green forest (which itself has been created by a landslide a couple of hundred years ago). In the afternoon, we stopped to warm up in a small cafe. The hot chocolate was delicious and they didn’t even flinch when we sat down with our muddy clothes. Finally, we arrived in Beer, where instead of a cool blonde, we found a nice pebble beach, colourful fishing boats and a good fish restaurant.
Between days 262 and 264 of our hike, we started saying good bye to the beautiful Jurassic Coast, which officially ends at Exmouth. This part was equally impressive, with red sandstone cliffs instead of the white limestone we had seen until then.
We discovered some more beautiful coastal towns, among them Sidmouth, where we spent an additional day. We stayed in a hotel situated in a gracious Victorian mansion. The price was surprisingly low, so no wonder it was almost fully booked, even in winter. The patrons, all way beyond their sixties, only added to the charm of this 170 year-old building.
The Geoneedle, made of different stones found along the Jurassic Coast, marked the end of this part of our hike. A short beach walk away was downtown Exmouth, from where we hoped to catch a ferry across the river Exe the next day.