78c – St Aldhelm’s Head to Chapman’s Pool

Chapman’s Pool in Dorset is renowned for its fossils.  They tumble out of the cliffs and land at your feet – quite literally!  It is impossible not to find fossils there.  It is a small cove, nestled into the cliffs to the north west of St Aldhelm’s Head.  Reaching it requires a bit of a walk, but it’s worth it.  Unfortunately for us, the walk from St Aldhelm’s Head is the more undulating of the routes in.  As we rounded the head and turned north we suddenly found ourselves facing a large descent, down into the depths of a valley.

Descent from St Aldhelm's HeadAnd of course when you are crossing a valley and have gone down one side, you then have to go up the other.  It is thanks to geological features such as this that when walking the South West Coast Path it is said you climb the equivalent of three Mount Everests.

And Ascent Back Up AgainThe walk back up crests at Emmetts Hill, where there is a memorial garden to fallen Royal Marines.  It was designed after the IRA set off a bomb on 22 September 1989 at the Royal Marines School of Music in Deal, Kent, killing eleven and injuring a further 21.  The memorial was later expanded to include marines killed in all conflicts from 1945.  Enclosed by a dry stone wall, the memorial garden includes a stone table and benches to afford rest to the weary traveller.

Royal Marines Association Memorial Garden“Rest a while and reflect,” reads the memorial inscription, “that we who are living can enjoy the beauty of the sea and countryside”.  We followed this advice: it was a beautifully tranquil place.

View from Emmetts HillAnd then, all of a sudden, there it was:  Chapman’s Pool.  Time to go fossil hunting!

Chapmans Pool

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • St Aldhelm’s Head:  N 50° 34.900 W 002° 03.100
  • Steep Valley Bottom:  N 50° 34.975 W 002° 03.550
  • Royal Marines Association Memorial Garden:  N 50° 35.469 W 002° 03.565
  • Chapman’s Pool:  N 50° 35.575 W 002° 03.850

Walk #78 Statistics (of which this post forms the third part):


78b – Winspit to St Aldhelm’s Head

There are days when long walks are rewarded with great views, and then there are other days.  This day most definitely fell into the latter category.  As we climbed from Winspit up to St Aldhelm’s Head (also known as St Alban’s Head) the spectacular geology and views of the Jurassic Coast eluded us completely.

The Path to St Aldhelm's HeadMist.  It rolled in from the sea, curled up the cliffs, and swept inland.  There, within a couple of hundred yards, its incursion was halted by the sun.  It was dissipated by the lightest touch, evaporating into the bright blue of a gorgeous day.  We could see it all happening.  We could see it was a perfect spring day a hundred yards inland – it just wasn’t where we were!  We hoped the mist would clear, but it just kept rolling in, all day.  I tried to look on the bright side.  Because of the mist there was no horizon to be seen, so I would not have to straighten any of my photos today (coastal photographers reading this have empathetic smiles on their faces right now).

St Aldhelm’s Head is the most southerly point of the Purbeck peninsula.  As we approached it we saw a pillar of Portland Stone, teetering on the cliff edge and gazing out to sea, standing as a defiant reminder to the fact that this place was once heavily quarried.  Beneath it, leading down to the sea’s edge, was a landscape littered with other boulders, perhaps fallen from an eroding cliff edge but perhaps discarded by the quarrymen years earlier.

Pillar on St Aldhelm's HeadThe pillar was actually quite large (and quite stable, though it may not look it).

Pillar on St Aldhelm's HeadHow many years this pillar has stood here I do not know.  I wonder how many more years it will remain before finally toppling and joining the other boulders on the slope below?

Just inland from this pillar we found a sculpture commemorating the importance of St Aldhelm’s Head to the development of radar.

Radar Memorial at St Aldhelm's HeadDuring World War Two radar was cutting-edge technology and top secret.  Research into it had started some five years before the outbreak of war, in Suffolk, but that was too close to Germany and so Churchill decided to relocate operations to Worth Matravers in Dorset.  St Aldhelm’s Head was the site of an experimental radar station, specifically a Chain Home Low (CHL) radar.  CHL radar was designed to detect aircraft flying at altitudes below the detection capabilities of the existing Chain Home radar.  The St Aldhelm’s Head station demonstrated that high, cliff-top locations were much better for CHL radar than low-lying positions.  As a result a fully operational station was then built here.

In 1942 Churchill feared a German attack on the south coast and moved operations to Malvern in Worcestershire, but from 1940 to 1942 the research at St Aldhelm’s Head was of critical importance to radar capability and the war effort and generally.

St Aldhelm’s Head itself is named after (yes, you guessed it!) St Aldhelm.  St Aldhelm was the Bishop of Sherborne and died in 709 AD.  Stood on the head is a tiny Norman Chapel named after him, standing just under 8 metres square.  We found it isolated and mysterious in the gently enveloping mist, its door open and beckoning.

St Aldhelm's ChapelThe first record of the chapel dates to 1261 but it is believed to date to as early as 1140 when, according to one story, a daughter and son-in-law to a local family drowned; the family erected the chapel in remembrance.  Over the centuries it fell into ruin, but is now restored and fully functional.  It is a tiny building compared to the many churches found in so many towns and villages, serving only a small terrace of coastguard cottages lying nearby.  But for all that, it is a simple, peaceful place to visit.  Compared to the pomp and grandeur of other places of worship I imagine this small, sparse chapel operates more on simple faith alone and surely there is much to be said for that.

St Aldhelm's Chapel

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Approximate Position of Rock Pillar:  N 50° 34.718 W 002° 03.335
  • Radar Memorial:  N 50° 34.730 W 002° 03.354
  • St Aldhelm’s Chapel:  N 50° 34.785 W 002° 03.410

Walk #78 Statistics (of which this post forms the second part):


78a – Winspit Revisited

At the beginning of Stage #78 of our Coastal Path we had to walk from Worth Matravers back to Winspit Quarry.  It was foggy today, giving an eerie, ghostly feel to the place.  I felt as if I should be casting nervous glances out to sea, looking for abandoned ghost ships appearing out of the mist!

Winspit QuarryWas it me, or did the quarry look more dangerous today than at our last visit?  The massive stone blocks seemed to be being teased out of their places in the cliff by the curling fingers of fog.

Winspit QuarryEven so, I couldn’t resist going back inside for a final look.  I chose one of the many entrances and eyed it carefully.  One block in particular, just above and to the left hand side, seemed ready to fall at any moment.  One day, I am sure, I will be reading about some poor person in the newspapers who had been standing underneath one of these blocks at just the wrong time.

Winspit QuarryInside the roof was not held up by the giant stone pillars hewn out of the rock which we had seen in another cave during our last walk.  This time all that seemed to be holding the roof from collapsing on top of us was a haphazard arrangement of stacked blocks.  It did not fill me with confidence to see gaping holes in the ceiling with a scattering of boulders on the floor underneath!

Winspit QuarryWinspit Quarry is a fascinating place, but it was time to leave it.  Onwards!

As we left we saw a memorial.  It read, “In memory of Alastair Ian Campbell Johnstone, drowned at Winspit August 19th 1935.  He loved birds and green places and the wind on the heath & saw the brightness of the skirts of God.  Born 1917, Died 1935″.

Winspit Quarry Memorial StoneI have found virtually nothing about poor Alastair Johnstone, save for a couple of family trees on the internet.  Whoever he was, on one summer’s day in 1935 he drowned in the sea aged just 18.


Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Winspit Quarry:  N 50° 35.020 W 002° 02.080

Walk #78 Statistics (of which this post forms the first part):


A Sneak Preview: The Humber Bridge

We have thousands of miles and many years of walking to complete before we get to the Humber Bridge.  But if my work happens to take me up there am I be blamed for taking advantage of a sneak preview??

The Humber Bridge straddles the River Humber, connecting North Lincolnshire with East Riding of Yorkshire.  One day we hope to be walking across it on our “return leg” down the east coast.  It is a beast of a bridge, with a main span of 1,410 metres and a total span of 2,220 metres.  This means that even with my wide-angle lens I had trouble fitting it in to a single photograph.  I walked on and on, turning intermittently to see if the entire span would fit into a single frame.  By the time it did I was so far away I could almost see the curvature of the Earth – oh wait – maybe it was the curvature of my lens.  Either way, this bridge was big.

Humber BridgeWhen the Humber Bridge opened in July 1981 it was the world’s longest single-span suspension bridge.  It held that crown for 16 years when it was succeeded by the Green Belt Bridge in Denmark.  As at 2015 the Humber Bridge is now seventh in the rankings.

All the same, it’s impressive.  Especially from underneath.

Underneath the Humber BridgeThe Humber Bridge was designed to last 120 years.  This means that if we want to walk across it we have to walk from our present position in Dorset, round the south west of England, up through Wales, Cumbria, round Scotland and back down to the Humber by the year 2101, at which point it should still be standing.  But the question is, will we?

Humber Bridge

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • The Humber Bridge:   N 53° 42.455 W 000° 27.003

Trip Statistics:

  • Date of Visit: 10 March 2015

A Tourist in my Own City: The London Eye

In March we played host to a French exchange student, meaning we became tourists in our own city.  Although we had been on the London Eye twice in the past, London’s ever-changing skyline means each new visit offers new sights.

It’s an impressive structure, standing at 443 feet tall and with a diameter of 394 feet.  When it was constructed in 1999 it was the largest ferris wheel in the world.  It held that title for seven years before the Star of Nanchang (525 feet tall) took its crown, but as at 2015 it remains the largest ferris wheel in Europe.

London EyeBecause it stands on the south bank of the River Thames it is not hemmed in by other buildings.  It offers fantastic views up and down the river.

View from the London EyeIn every direction London’s iconic structures spring into view.  St Paul’s Cathedral; the City of London; Canary Wharf; the Walkie-Talkie (which reflected the sun’s rays and melted cars when it first opened, until a screen was put over it); Downing Street; The Shard; the Houses of Parliament – they are all laid out for you to see.

London Eye MontageBut some of the best views, I think, are of the Eye itself.

London EyeIt’s great to be a tourist in your own city.  We should do it more often.

The London EyePoints in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • The London Eye:     N 51° 30.200 W 000° 07.180

Trip Statistics:

  • Date of Visit: 8 February 2015

77f – Dancing Ledge to Winspit

The central section of Dorset’s coastline is literally lined with ledges.  We had just been to Dancing Ledge, but heading west there is Gun Ledge, Seacombe Ledge and Winspit Ledge, to name but a few.  As you head west you can look back and get a good view of them lined up along the coast.

Looking back to the LedgesYou can see that most of these ledges are old quarries.  There are several along this stretch of coastline, but Winspit deserves a special mention.

Winspit QuarrySituated about a mile to the south of Worth Matravers, Winspit Quarry was in use until about 1940.  Portland Stone from here was transported up to London and used for building.  During World War Two it was used for naval and air defences and was never reoccupied as a quarry afterwards.  Rather, the caves were opened to the public and remain so to this day (with “At Your Own Risk” notices dotted around, of course).  I am sure there is a risk of a splintered stone block coming away from time to time, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be underneath when it happened, but I also couldn’t resist a peek inside one of the larger caves.

Winspit QuarryGiant stone pillars held up the roof above and stopped everything from collapsing on top of us.  Water dripped from small cracks in the ceiling.  The further in we went, the darker it became.

Winspit QuarryWinspit Quarry has been used as a location for Blakes 7 and Doctor Who over the years.  It is easy to see why it is attractive for location filming.  It was fascinating wandering around these caves and imagining what engineering skill it must have taken to remove the rock whilst still holding up the cliff above.

Winspit QuarryWe couldn’t stay for long at Winspit; some weather was coming in.  We headed inland to Worth Matravers and the Square and Compass pub.  This pub is famous and well worth a visit if you are in the area – the mulled cider is fantastic.

Square and CompassIt’s a rustic pub, as you can see.  Twenty-or-so years ago I stopped off here and remember a duck following me to the bar.  Nobody paid it any attention; the wildfowl roamed quite freely at that time.  I was pleased to see this was still the case.  The ducks were nowhere to be seen but the chickens were very friendly!

Sqaure and CompassWe sipped our drinks and watched the weather out at sea turn and head our way, at which point we said goodbye to our feathered companion and fled to the safety of our car.

Weather Coming In

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Dancing Ledge:  N 50° 35.500 W 002° 00.270
  • Gun Ledge:  N 50° 35.460 W 002° 00.730
  • Seacombe Ledge:  N 50° 35.330 W 002° 01.515
  • Winspit Quarry:  N 50° 35.020 W 002° 02.080
  • Square and Compass, Worth Matravers:  N 50° 35.873 W 002° 02.225

Walk #77 Statistics (of which this post forms the final part):


77e – Dancing Ledge

I had been looking forward to Dancing Ledge for miles, and then all of a sudden it popped into view.  There – in the foreground!

Dancing LedgeDancing Ledge was the site of the largest cliff quarry in Dorset which did not have road access.  It was last used for this purpose in the 1930’s.  There were caves dotted around the base of the cliffs but I didn’t venture too far in.  The rocks littering the ground looked as if they had fallen away from the cliff faces above and I did not want to get in their way.

Quarry at Dancing LedgeThe quarried cliff faces are now a popular spot for climbers.

Climber at Dancing LedgeThis second chap had to work harder than his friend!

Climber at Dancing LedgeDancing Ledge is said to get its name from the way in which the sea moves over the stone shelf at certain points of the tide.  The shallow undulations in the rock make the water bob around, giving the impression that the entire shelf is dancing.

Dancing LedgeIt’s a bit of a scramble to get down to the ledge itself.  Once I had navigated my way down I walked up to its western end.  All along this section of the coast are caves and crevices.

Caves at Dancing LedgeI stood at the far end of the ledge and looked at the closest cave.  Could I get into it?  There seemed to be a small groove cut into the rock, just above the ledge itself, which might allow me to squeeze in.  I approached it and pondered.  Did it give me enough space to clamber in?

Cave at Dancing LedgeI certainly didn’t want to fall in – I didn’t have my wetsuit with me!  In fact when the tide is right Dancing Ledge affords a great platform for leaping into the sea.  It is a popular spot for coasteering.  Many years ago a swimming pool was even quarried out of the lower ledge for the use of a local school!  However, it is also one of those places along the coast which can be dangerous in the wrong conditions; people have died here.  I crept forward cautiously, ensuring each handhold and foothold was secure before moving on.

The cave dwindled into nothing.  So did my shelf.

Cave at Dancing LedgeIt had been a tight squeeze getting in – now to get back out again!

Looking out from the Cave at Dancing LedgeA quick walk back across the ledge…

Dancing Ledge…and a clamber back up the rocks.

Rock Clamber Down to Dancing LedgeI would have loved to have stayed and explore further, but time was pressing on and we had to do the same.  I suspect, however, that we’ll be back here one day – hopefully with our wetsuits.

Dancing Ledge is enjoyed by many people, but it seems to have been a particularly special place for the filmmaker Derek Jarman, whose house we had seen at Dungeness a couple of hundred miles back.  His autobiography is called Dancing Ledge and scenes from one of his films, Jubilee, were shot here.  At the end of that film, Elizabeth I and John Dee walk towards the ledge and Elizabeth says this:

All my heart rejoiceth at the roar of the surf on the shingles, marvellous sweet music it is to my ears – what joy there is in the embrace of water and earth

And that, I think, pretty much sums up why we are on this walk around the coast of Britain.

Leaving Dancing Ledge

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Dancing Ledge:  N 50° 35.500 W 002° 00.270

Walk #77 Statistics (of which this post forms the fifth part):



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