Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Jurassic Coast Day 4: Abbotsbury to Weymouth

We awoke to a sunny, nearly hot morning.  Nothing small and stuffed had murdered us in our sleep.  Time to hit the trail for a final stretch- walking along the coast to the town of Weymouth, where a train would haul two dirty tired hikers back to the Big Smoke. 

The best part about this walk was to watch springtime happen before us.  The weather went from cool and cloudy to warmer and sunnier each day until we got a amazingly beautiful one.  We saw herds of heavily-pregnant ewes start to turn into fields of ewes with tiny freshly borne lambs.  The swallows were returning from Africa, and skylarks were chattering away in almost every field we walked through, and the little bits of forest and wooden hillsides were tinged with green.  This time of year is pure magic, and my favorite time to walk.  

 Instead of heading straight for the trail, we headed up the big hill to St Catherine's Chapel, the larger-than-all seafaring chapel that announced to sailors that they were near Abbotsbury.

Ah, first, we had a bit of a distraction.

 Trail side tyre swings are never left alone.

It's not an easy climb up through a terraced cow pasture, but the views from the top are worth it.

 The downs, the town, the sea.  Really spectacular, helped by the fact the sky was cloud-free.

 The coast path winds its way around the privately-owned Swanery, through farm fields and hills before settling down to sea level along an enormous body of still saltwater called the Fleet Lagoon.  It is a place to bring binoculars- this long, still body of water is of great importance to birds of all kinds.  I had to keep reminding myself of the non-refundable train that left Weymouth at 6.  There was just so much going on.  Without even trying, I saw dozens of waterfowl and songbirds.  The unique protected lagoon coupled with farmland and pastureland and a nearby beach meant this was birdy heaven.

Corn Bunting



Long-tailed tit
Little Egret
 It was pretty amazing.  In the space of an afternoon, I saw more birds appear in front of me than I had all winter.  Understandably, the lagoon was fiercely protected, with a few scientist having access to the water and that was it.

Finally, after passing a military firing range and some large industrial estates, we were back in civilization.  There was a very well-reviewed lagoon-side crab shack that we wanted to try, but they were closing post-lunch just as we walked in.  Which was fine: there were no fewer than three Ferraris in the front lot, all of them parked at "asshole parking space" angles for maximum "LOOK AT ME" exposure.

The Southwest Coast trail crosses the bridge and continues to do an 8-mile loop of the Island of Portland.  The island is connected by a bridge from Weymouth.  Before there was a bridge and if you didn't want to hazard the ferry crossing, you would have to go all the way to Abbotsbury to cross the Fleet, and walk all the way to Portland via the beach.

Portland is famous for its stone- the creamy-white limestone quarried for use of some pretty famous buildings- Buckingham Palace, St. Paul's Cathedral, and the far-off UN building in NYC.  

I won't be visiting this trip.  I looked at the map.  The train station was at least three miles away (!) and we had over an hour to make it there and find something eatable to bring for the journey.  Hustle the bustle, as my grade-school bus driver would yell at the pokey kids not willing to make good time.

So a small gripe:  I got the idea for this 4-day walk on the Southwest Coast Path website.  Not only do they have a great system of planning your trips along the trail, they have suggestions as to where to go for multi-day walks.  I booked the trip based on their recommendations and reasonable mileage between stops, but little did I know:

1.  The mileage they gave on the website was off by about 20% every day.  Meaning, we walked 20% more than what we planned.  We walked 9 hours the first day, and nearly 7 hours the next three days.  Even when we stuck strictly to the trail, we ended up doing 3-4 miles more each day than we though we would.

2.  They didn't include the trail closures adding miles to our trek, and that bumped up the total to 12 extra miles (which is a full days walk for most!).  At least 10 miles were done pounding the pavement on a diverted path alongside busy roads.  That is not enjoyable:  it's exhausting.  

3.  It would have been nice if they kept the website updated with the landslips; I only knew about the first one.  We would have planned ahead and taken a bus further down the trail instead of waiting and paying for a cab.

In the end, we did a whopping 70 miles over 4 days.  Even with that cab ride to shave 7 miles off, it was about 10 more than we thought we would be doing.  Three of the days were exceedingly difficult, with many steep ascends and descends.  I was exhausted and ready for a break, and my new-ish boots have proved to be less cooperative than the last pair and I was tending to several blisters and general sore feet.

Alas, it was a lovely walk.  The coast was stunningly beautiful and wild and remote in spots, and so civilized and charming in between.

From Weymouth, you could see the next bit of coastline:

More cliffs!  Lovely limestone ones.  The next bit of trail stretches between Weymouth and Poole along the Dorset coast.  I think I can do it in 3 days.

Weymouth was the biggest town he had been through on our walk, and it sprawled out quite a bit.  Being a beautiful bank holiday day, we were quite sad that the only ice cream flavor to be had was "natural", meaning not even flavored.  A seaside town that runs out of ice cream is a poor excuse for a seaside town, the calender be damned!

I had read about a pie shop that did excellent homemade pies near the train station so I jetted off to place an order before we had a long 3 hour train ride back to London.  I put an order in, mindful of the fact that the disclaimer on the menu said it might take up to 20 minutes to get our order since everything is homemade and from scratch.   I even checked with the server- we had about 35 minutes before the train left- and she assured me it would all be good.

Except a halfhour later, there were still no pies, and a few other patrons had left because they had been waiting so long.  Ah, the joys of bank holiday skeleton crews.  I begged the server for pies, and asked to refund my card because we had to go (with no time to find a backup sandwich) and she scrambled back from the kitchen with a paper bag in hand.  I grabbed it, breathless and thanked her before dashing across the square to the train with just a minute to spare.

I probably should have checked to make sure she had remembered to add cutlery of sorts.

Because she didn't.

The pies were easy enough as they were the delightful kind you could eat like a cornish pasty, but the mash potato and broccoli presented an issue.

I asked the train conductor if there was a cafe car and was told we picked one up in Bournemouth, about a  half hour down the track.

We got to Bournemouth, rushed the cafe car and was told nope, no cutlery- they only serve pre-packaged sandwichs.

So I improvised.  I tore up corners of the takeaway container, and used them like pita bread.

We had hiked 17 miles in the heat, I was starving.    Not my proudest moment.

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