Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Jurassic Coast Day 3: Lyme Regis to Abbotsbury

This was the day on this walk that I'm not especially proud of.  

Leaving Lyme Regis.  The town is beautiful, and we followed the stream down to the waterfront, and I even spotted a clever piece by Banksy:

So here is where my day turned to shit.

Another landslip meant we had to work our way far around the coast path again.  This added six miles onto our hike on what would be an already long day- 18 miles- and it was just miserable.  After a pretty stretch in a forest, it was a strenuous uphill climb along an A road, and then across a golf course, and then on the pavement along the really busy A35 road for miles.  Alternatively, we could have walked along the beach a stretch to Charmouth, but the tides were against us and the waves were pounding the cliff faces when we checked out that option.  I was in pain- all the pavement walking had really done a toll on my feet and shins.  Also, since this was the first big walk we'd done since our Welsh adventure over Xmas, I was in less than stellar shape.  Exhausted and slightly beaten, we made our way to rejoin the coast path in Charmouth, only to see a sign saying there was another landslip ahead, and go back and join the main road for a few more miles.

This was just awful.  I had known that we would be going around a landslip the day before, but these two took me by surprise, and they were adding really tough miles to an already long day.

Drastic action was taken.  We sat in a pub in Charmouth and called for a taxi.  While the easter sunday crowds lined up for pub lunch, we sat near the fireplace, warmed ourselves with a drink, and waited for our hero to arrive.  My mood was gloomy.  I felt as though I had failed.

Once our knight in shining minivan arrived, things were cheerful once again.  We told him our situation, and he took us 7 miles down the road to West Bay, where we picked up the trail again.  We skipped a lot of road walking, saved our feet, and we wouldn't be making our way to our night's lodging after midnight.  So we cheated a bit.  

The rest of the walk was easy though.  The majority of the big cliffs were behind us, and we just had one more grand climb to do at Burton Bradstock before the trail and the coast flatted out to miles of  beachside walking.

We paused for something I can't get my head around:

People go ga-ga for Cadbury Creme Eggs this time of year.  Kind of like Peeps in the states.  Except nasty.  Waxy-sweet chocolate that contains a surprise of gritty, sugary fondant does not a bon-bon make.  I am one and done on this one.

After a few uneventful miles of beachside walking, I noticed an alternative route to Abbotsbury.  We could have just stayed the course and followed the beach there, but I had noticed a line of big hills closing in to the shore.  At West Bexington, we veered off the coast path and started the long, steep climb up the downs.  I was atoning for the cab ride and the creme egg and felt much better once I had a lofty view of the coast.

So many sheep!  Jacob sheep, too.

There were sheep and views and meadows and a big ruin of a hilltop fort.  I forgot how much I loved ridge walks.  My mood, instantly sunny.

I was almost sad to see Abbotsbury come into view.

Even with the cab cheat, we ended up doing 16 miles, and we had quite a nice bit of elevation gain at the end.  

Abbotsbury.  It was lovely, a really quaint little village, tucked between the downs and the sea.  there's a swan sanctuary here, and as the name suggests, an Abbot, and a chapel up on a hill by the sea.

The only place to stay in the area was a B&B that was decorated by someone who loves dolls and bears and lace and had the strong opinion that all three together is something one might never get enough of.  You guys, I almost cancelled the entire trip based on the fact that the only room available in the entire area was frilly and pink and had multiple dolls and bears and doily covering every surface (which made it really hard to put a cup of tea down, never mind your muddy hiking stuff).  Also, carped bathrooms are just....no.  Just.  No.

It was just for one night, and the owner was nice and proud of her home and the decor.  To each her own?  Most of the guesthouses, hostels and B&Bs we end up staying in are always spotless and clean, and tend to be comfortable and minimal with the decor, which to me adds to the "clean" element.  It's hard to sleep at night with the dead glass eyes of a million stuffies staring out at you.  I don't mind camping, I don't mind bunk houses, I'm just dandy with hostels.  I just can't deal with pink frilly ruffly things coming at me from all sides.

But we are beat-down hikers, we'll sleep through anything.  Even murderous dolls coming after us in our dreams.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

SWC path Day 2: Branscombe to Lyme Regis

Day 2!  Boots on reluctant feet, huge amounts of carbs consumed for breakfast, and up the first hill.  Today would be shorter in distance, but no less lovely.    

 Leaving Branscombe, I didn't have to climb to the top of the first big hill (the SWC trail goes lower!) but I felt like I should.

The top of the cliff was pretty amazing.  This whole area under the cliff was a landslip a couple hundred years ago.  The cliff collapsed into the sea after a storm, and the whole area became wilderness as plants and trees took over.  The birdsong coming from that patch of forest was deafening.  And the sea....when the light hit it just right, it looked somewhat more tropical than England.

 Just in time for second breakfast, we hit the town of Beer.  Naturally, a pub stop was in order.  This place was an adorable tourist and fishing town, perched right next to a pretty harbor and beautiful old buildings.  Beer was known for its victorian lacemaking, and there was a lace shop here, but it was closed.  I got a pasty and sat down on a bench overlooking the beach.

 Spring is my favorite time to be outside.  There's just so much going on- people are shedding their winter layers, birds are returning from far-away lands to create a symphony of song.  Winter can be just awful, but that first burst of bright green before it is faded by the sun is pure magic.

One thing I find adorable about English seaside towns are the little cabins you can rent along the beach.  People really keep them tidy and painted, and lots of people were busy getting them ready for the season.  A place to stash your beach chairs and shade tent, to get out of the wind and occasionally foul weather.  I spied in a few of them and people had kettles and little propane fridges tucked in them as well.  I love this.

Our afternoon was interrupted by news of a land slip diverting the trail.  I had known about this, but was hoping they somehow was able to re-build a footpath around the dodgy cliff by the time we arrived.  No such luck.  The sign by the trail told us, "Go back to Seaton and take a bus to Lyme Regis!", and not feeling for that, we started a six mile go-around that took us well inland.

Walking the quickest way into Lyme Regis meant walking along a very busy A-road without a pavement or easy path to follow, so we kept going and took some country roads to get around.

It was pleasant enough, but most of it being on pavement, my feet and shins started to complain after 6 miles.  I ignored them.

When we finally re-joined the coast path, we had lovely views of what was to come.  We had crossed from Devon and we were now in Dorset.

Like Branscombe, Lyme Regis was in a valley by the sea.  Instead of cows on the hillside, there were houses, as this was a much bigger town.  Our stop for the evening was far up at the top of the hill, so we dropped off our stuff and showered before donning clean shirts and our flip-flops to check out Lyme.

It was a really lovely town, with a river running through the middle and a gussied-up flour mill and brewery, a museum and theater.  They had built a very expensive sea wall to protect the cliff-side real estate, and it made for a pleasant evening to stroll around.

Added bonus:  I found a vegetarian restaurant called Terra Kitchen right by the waterfront.  This was a real treat.  I try and eat healthy on the trail, but a lot of times the only option at pubs is a very sad afterthought of mushy boiled vege and wilted lettuce, which makes me say, "I'll have the bacon-wrapped lamb shank, please".  To have a real vegetarian place on the trail was bliss.

This is another cutesy coastal town I wouldn't mind spending more time in.  It's a noted fossil-hunting hot spot.  When a storm batters the cliffs, landslips cause new layers of fossils to appear overnight, and the beach is littered with them at low tide.  

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Walking the Jurassic Coast

Having a long weekend is a good excuse for a stretch of the legs.  Luck was with us- aside from a little rain in the forecast, we had brilliant early spring weather.  

We chose a section of the Jurassic Coast on the South West Coast Path.  Our walk started in Exmouth and finished at the train station almost 70 miles away in Weymouth.  Ambitious, yes, but a good distance over 4 days.  

Accommodation, as always, was scarce, so our first day would be quite a long one, as the first spot on the trail where we could lay our heads in something other than sand and mud would end up being near 20 miles along.  

Exmouth was a pretty little town- I would go back and explore anytime.  It's very sleepy Victorian seaside village surrounded by red sand beaches along the ocean and the Exe river estuary.  They have a lovely marina and a beautiful new rescue lifeboat and a boardwalk that I'm sure is just a treat in summer. 

Soon, we were on the beach and walking along the red sandstone cliffs.  These were once brutally hot and dry desert sands.

Worn smooth by time and tide, they made for an impressive sculpture park.

Three miles in and we hit our first caravan park.  These would become a feature of our walk- huge, sprawling chinzy real estate on former farmland.  This set off many a debate.  Affordable seaside getaway cottage or eyesore?  I understood their appeal- who wouldn't want to have a place near the sea?- but I couldn't get over how awful they looked.  Although, they seem to be much tidier than the trailer parks that I knew from home.

We didn't let that ruin us- it was really some gorgeous seaside walking.  The cliffs are important seabird nesting areas, and many of the beaches are completely cut off unless you are very brave or very stupid.

We did pass a woman walking her dog on the trail with the cat in tow.  I don't think I've seen someone out walking their cat before.

We hit Budleigh Salterton, our first village on the trail.  We soon realized the benefits of coastal walking in this area- no need to pack a lunch as we sat down on a seaside bench and shared a crab sandwich purchased seaside.  You couldn't walk more than a few hours without encountering an ice cream stand either.

Northern Wheatear

As we went around the river Otter, the skies opened up.  I spied a flash of blue as a kingfisher flew by, but kept trucking down the trail.

We rounded a bend and it became clear that the last 7 miles of our day were going to be tough.

One thing I love about hiking in the UK is that any place where you might want to sit and admire the view, someone has thought to put a bench there.  It's quite good.

We rolled through the town of Sidmouth, which was bustling.  Someone really likes Goldens....

The other thing that was nice about this seaside trail is that every town we came to had public toilets on the boardwalk.  This was a lovely thing for me- these vast expanses of cliffs had very little cover.  While I couldn't quite make it in between public toilets, it was nice to not have to scramble in the thistles and brambles every time I needed to wee.

From here, the trail did get steep and rough.  We had three big climbs and descents to tackle over a series of steep cliffs, and they were not easy.  

Still, this was my favorite part of the hike.  It was getting late enough in the day where everyone else had gone home, the trail was remote enough to be quiet and peaceful, the sun was out, and I was getting loopy with exhaustion.

The Coast Path is really well marked, but I had sworn we only had 2 miles to go to Branscombe many miles back.

Down the muddy downs to Branscombe, finally!  It's an adorable little village, tucked into an isolated valley near the sea, with the Nation Trust running an iron forge and maintaining a bunch of the thatched-roofed cottages there.  Cows grazed the steep hillsides.  It was so perfect.

We would our way through the narrow charming streets to our pub accommodation for the night.  The best thing about staying at pubs is you don't have to go far at all for dinner.  Although I do quite like a post-dinner walk, I was quite alright with walking from pub to bed after 20 miles.  Plus, our room was an adorable thatched-roof outbuilding.

We were the only walkers in town it seemed, and everyone else in the pub were dressed quite posh.  We arrived post-shower in our clean hiking clothes and flip-flops, famished and so tired that we turned down desert in favor of getting to bed by 9:30.

Perhaps doing a massively hilly long walk as your first day out was a bit mad.  It felt really good to be out walking again after a lazy winter.