79a – Kimmeridge

The Type 25 Pillbox at Kimmeridge Bay in Dorset is a tiny defensive structure, with an internal diameter of only 6 feet.  I cannot imagine how it must have felt to climb through the tiny door into the tiny structure and stare out of the tiny window on a dark and quiet night in search of a massive invasion fleet on the horizon.  The people who had to stand guard in this pillbox must have been very relieved that invasion didn’t come.

The pillbox today is said to be making its way slowly, slowly down the beach, towards its watery grave.  I doubt they’ll let it get that far; it’s something of a local landmark.

Type 25 Pillbox at Kimmeridge BayKimmeridge is an oil-rich community!  Everyone has heard of North Sea Oil, but what about Kimmeridge Oil?  Oil has been extracted here for hundreds of years.  The oil-permeated shale here was mined as long ago as the Neolithic period (that’s around 4,500 to 6,000 years ago), but by 1858 attention had turned specifically to the oil and gas in the rock.  In 1858 Kimmeridge oil was being extracted at a rate of 50 tonnes a month and its gas was being used to light the streets of Paris.  Today, a sole nodding donkey continues to extract 80 barrels (that’s 12,720 litres) of oil a day.

8 - Kimmeridge Wellsite Nodding DonkeyJust beyond the Kimmeridge Wellsite we found ourselves at the entrance to the Lulworth Range Walks.  This is Ministry of Defence land and is closed off most weekdays, although open most weekends and holidays.  We had to time our trip down here to coincide with the opening hours; to find the Range Walks closed and to circumnavigate would have taken us on an inland detour of about 10 miles.  No thanks!

Entering the Lulworth Range WalksApart from all of the unexploded ordnance lying around the Range Walks there were other, larger, smellier dangers to be wary of.  And they were right in our path.

Cows just inside the Lulworth Range WalksWe have had our fair share of experiences with cows whilst walking the coast of Britain.  Some have ignored us with apathetic disdain.  Others have taken individual (or worse, collective) action against us.  On a couple of occasions we have found ourselves being herded out of a field like…well…cattle.

We saw these cows had calves with them.  Would this make them more aggreesive in their defence of their young?  They eyed us and we eyed them.  They didn’t move, but rather dared us to cross the cattle-gate and make our approach.  We had little choice but to submit to the situation.  We made our way across and skirted around the edge of the path, keeping our distance, ready for evasive action if required.  The cows turned out to be the disdainful type and roundly ignored us.

Some walkers behind us decided not to cross the cattle-gate, but rather wait the cows out.  Some half mile later I looked back.  The cows hadn’t moved.  Nor had the walkers.

Once through the cows the wildlife became altogether more appealing and fluffy.  Aww, look!

Sheep in the Lulworth Range WalksIt is surprising that something as fluffy and lovely as that can live in the middle of this:

Danger Sign in the Lulworth Range WalksI wonder if the unexploded debris had anything to do with this, which we found a few minutes later?

Carcass by CrowProbably not, but you never know…

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

  • Type 25 Pill Box:  N 50° 36.701 W 002° 07.881
  • Kimmeridge Wellsite:  N 50° 36.790 W 002° 08.170
  • Entrance to Lulworth Range Walks:  N 50° 36.769 W 002° 08.226
  • Disdainful Cows:  N 50° 36.672 W 002° 08.363

Walk #79 Statistics (of which this post forms the final part):


Posted in Dorset | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Coastal Path in Malta

In April this year we went off to Malta and experienced some coastal walking there.  We were told Malta is a “marmite country” – you either love it or you hate it.  I loved it!

Early morning was a good time to start, I discovered.  Most days I got up at 6:30 am to watch the sunrise.  The sun started off blood-red as it crept over the horizon, gaining colour as it rose.  As it cleared the water, it seemed to almost drip back into the sea as it melted in its own warmth.

Sunrise over MelliehaSoon enough it was clear of ther water, rising with an almost visible speed and warming everything up.  I suddenly realised that I would be carrying my fleece rather than wearing it.

Sunrise over MelliehaThe Maltese coastline is spectacular.  We didn’t walk through much of it, but what little we did shows what is on offer.

Wave cut platforms in Qammieh…

Wave Cut Platform and Boulders at Qammieh

Wave Cut Platform at Qammieh…with boulders as big as houses littered across the shoreline.

Qammieh Wave Cut Platform and BoulderWe could hardly fit the biggest boulders in our camera frame, but they made for some interesting climbing.

Climbing a Giant Boulder at QammiehWe walked around the capital city of Valletta, with coastline paths in front of the city walls hewn out of the rock.

Valletta CoastlineMalta suffered particularly badly during World War Two; fortifications in the city walls were still very much in evidence.

Fortification at VallettaSea arches seemed to be everywhere, but the most impressive was the Azure Window on Gozo, the second largest island.  You can see the scale of it by the size of the boat in the next photo.

Azure WindowThey say the Azure Window will only last another few years; it is in imminent danger of collapse as the sea wears away its base.

You can take a boat trip out to see it from Dwerja (the “Inland Sea”) a small lagoon a couple of hundred metres away, which was formed when water flooded in through a 100 foot long cave.  Local fishermen operate small boats, taking tourists through the cave and out to the Azure Window.

The Inland SeaWe also visited Comino, the third largest of the islands.  Large ships do not visit here and there are no roads.  Comino is best known for its Blue Lagoon, where boats seem to float on air instead of water.

The Blue LagoonDon’t swim too far towards the entrance of the lagoon, though.  There are strong currents and a few weeks after we were here two British holidaymakers were drowned.

Comino is heaving at the popular tourist spots, but otherwise virtually deserted.  We walked around half of the island, finding only one house and a tiny graveyard during our travels.  We also found this strange small hut on the southern shoreline.  What it was I do not know.  Look – another sea arch in the background!

Hut at Southern Comino

Sea Arch on CominoComino had a lot of sea arches…

Comino Sea ArchI liked this one at the Blue Lagoon.

Sea Arch at the Blue LagoonWhere there are sea arches there are surely caves; we stopped off at the Ghar Hasan caves on the main island on our way back to the airport.

Entrance to Ghar Hasan Caves-1There is no real health and safety here.  No guards, gates, or warning signs to sully the spirit of adventure.  This was fresh nature, ready to be explored.  Well ok – there was that metal fence with a sign on it (you can see it in the background) which seemed to have been chucked up as a half-hearted gesture, but it was clear from the footprints that it was roundly ignored, and the passages leading off from the main cave before the fence were not barricaded at all.  Armed with only the torch on my phone we ventured in.

Ghar Hasan CavesAt first we could stand at full height, but as we got deeper inside the maze (and it was something of a maze in there) the ceilings got lower and lower and the atmosphere more and more clammy and muggy.  At one point we went down a tunnel that got smaller and smaller, until we could only creep through it by squatting like cave frogs.  Of the three of us only I had a torch, so we made our way through the claustrophobic squeeze whilst fighting our own shadows.  As soon as one of us got in the way of the torch the others were plunged into darkness.  At one point we turned the torch out completely – it was pitch black.  The tunnel eventually petered out into nothing; we had to retreat and take another branch.  You can just see the kids in the background of this next picture.

Ghar Hasan CavesWe didn’t have time to explore the caves in full.  We probably saw about 300 metres of them but I suspect they go much further than that.  But we had a plane to catch, so made our way back to emerge into the bright light of day drenched in sweat and dirt (the airline staff must have been overjoyed to see us).

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

  • Big Boulder at Qammieh Wave Cut Platform:  N 35° 58.137 E 014° 19.420
  • Valletta City Walls:  N 35° 54.165 E 014° 31.220
  • The Azure Window:  N 36° 03.210 E 014° 11.300
  • Dwerja:  N 36° 03.230 E 014° 11.470
  • The Blue Lagoon:  N 36° 00.830 E 014° 19.420
  • Strange Hut on Comino:  N 36° 00.380 E 014° 20.688
  • Ghar Hasan Caves:  N 35° 48.406 E 014° 31.084

Trip Statistics:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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):


Posted in Dorset | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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):


Posted in Dorset | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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):


Posted in Dorset | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

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):


Posted in Dorset | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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):


Posted in Dorset | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments