78f – Kimmeridge Ledges to Kimmeridge

As we emerged from the sea fog on the cliffs above Kimmeridge we passed the Clavell Tower.  It was a strange thing, standing isolated and seemingly empty.  Built in 1830, it clearly had character in its design, but where was that character now?  It was attractive, but  to me that it was devoid of any soul.  How could that be?  During its lifetime it has been used as an observatory, folly and coastguard lookout.  It has been gutted by fire.  It was a favourite place of Thomas Hardy.  It was the inspiration of a PD James novel.  It was used as a location for a Style Council music video.  So with all that history where had its soul gone?

Clavell TowerThe answer lies in the fact that this 180-year old tower was relocated back from the cliff edge in 2005-8, and at the same time was refurbished to be capable of letting out.  It was taken down stone by stone (there were 16,272 stones in all) and then rebuilt 25 metres further inland.  That would explain the “new” feel to the structure; it needed to weather in.

Its old plot had not quite succumbed to the eroding cliffs when we passed it.  We could still see its footprint, standing like another fossil on the Jurassic Coast.

Original Location of Clavell TowerWe dropped into Kimmeridge Bay and finished today’s walk.  The tide was out and the fossils in the rock were on full display.  There are some great examples to be found here.

Fossil at Kimmeridge Bay

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

  • Clavell Tower:  N 50° 36.449 W 002° 07.787
  • Old Position of Clavell Tower:  N 50° 36.439 W 002° 07.806
  • Kimmeridge Bay:  N 50° 36.650 W 002° 08.000

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


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78e – Chapman’s Pool to the Kimmeridge Ledges

Houns Tout Cliff is something of a climb.  We set our bodies to Plod Mode, fixed our eyes to the ground, and made our way slowly up to the ridge.

Houns Tout CliffThe climb was worth it.  From the ridge there are grand and sweeping views back to the scallop-shaped Chapman’s Pool and St Aldhelm’s Head beyond.  Everything we could see we had walked that morning.  It was a satisfying feeling; we stood on the high ground like generals surveying their freshly conquered territory.

Chapman's PoolThe views onward were equally impressive.  The mist we had seen earlier in the day was still there.  It rolled in from the sea and raced up the cliffs with astonishing speed, overunning them with ease but then being burned off by the sun as soon as land was breached.  The attack was at the Kimmeridge Ledges, in the far background of the next picture.

Mist Rolling In Over the Kimmeridge LedgesHere, take a closer look:

Mist Rolling In Over the Kimmeridge LedgesThe Kimmeridge Ledges are limestone fingers of rock.  They formed in Jurassic times when this part of the world was deep sea.  Silt settled and formed limestone bands which can be seen clearly in the cliffs and on the shoreline.  They stretch far out to sea and have been the cause of numerous shipwrecks over the years.  The bands in the cliffs show the fall to the east, again demonstrating the upheaval of land during the period when the Alps were built.

Kimmeridge LedgesSuperstitious people might have thought that the mist rolling in from the sea contained the collective souls of those perished in the shipwrecks.  It certainly made for an eerie atmosphere as we  headed into it, unable to see the sheer drop to the ledges below.

Into the Mist

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

  • Chapman’s Pool:  N 50° 35.575 W 002° 03.850
  • Houns-Tout Cliff:  N 50° 35.700 W 002° 04.150
  • Kimmeridge Ledges:  N 50° 35.700 W 002° 06.350

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


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78d – Chapman’s Pool

There are some places you visit where you know exactly what you will find, but it is amazing none the less.  For example, if you wander into my chicken enclosure at home you will discover a cluster of perfect eggs; anticipated yet magical.

In a similar manner, wander down to Chapman’s Pool on the Dorset coastline and you will find fossils.  Finding them is a guaranteed and yet exciting discovery.  Do you see the cliff in the next photo?  This is made of Kimmeridge Clay, a mudstone.  Fossils are pushed out of this and fall like eggs from my chickens’ bottoms.

Chapman's Pool and Houns-Tout CliffChapman’s Pool is subject to regular cliff falls, so much so that I am regularly astonished that the rate of erosion hasn’t eaten into mainland Dorset and reached Manchester by now.  The Kimmeridge Clay cliffs really are very flakey and crumbly.  In the rain they will soak up the water and dissolve into a globular heap like a snowman in the sun.

Kimmeridge ClayMany of the fossils here are flat, round ammonites, exposed as the Kimmeridge Clay weathers and crumbles.  The ammonites are a stark white against the grey of the mudstone and so easy to find; you don’t need keen eyes to spot them.  There are some in the next photo, lying exposed in the wreckage of a recent cliff fall.  Have a close look in the foreground for white dots in the clay.  Can you see them?

Cliffs of Kimmeridge Clay at Chapman's PoolHere – have a closer look.

Kimmeridge Clay Fossil at Chapman's PoolThe trick, as you can see, is to try to find a whole fossil and not one which has sheared into pieces, only to have millions of years’ worth of preservation washed clean by a single night’s rainfall.  If you look closely, however, there are plenty of whole fossils to find.

Fossils at Chapman's PoolLooking through the shingle also provides an abundance of flat fossil fragments.

Fossils at Chapman's PoolMy favourite fossil find from here, though, is one from 2011.  I was trailing my feet and my eyes along the shingle shoreline when I suddenly spotted it – a perfect whorl indented in a pebble.  It is small, as you can tell by the wood grain in the next photo, by extremely pleasing to the eye.  I picked it up and took it home where it still resides on a shelf in my study.

2011 Fossil from Chapmans PoolWe spent a happy hour or so exploring the cliff falls and shingle, skimming flat stones over a gentle tide.  We snoozed and ate our lunch, trying to put off the inevitable, unenviable, leg-burning climb westward out of Chapman’s Pool: Houns-Tout Cliff.  There it is, behind us, waiting patiently as we smile for the camera, ready to devour our calf muscles as we ascend.

Houns-Tout Cliff

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

  • Chapman’s Pool:  N 50° 35.575 W 002° 03.850
  • Houns-Tout Cliff:  N 50° 35.700 W 002° 04.150

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


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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):


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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):


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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):


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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
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