A walk from Worth Matravers to Seacombe, Winspit, St Aldhelm's Head and Chapman's Pool

The giant ammonite of Winspit shore

The giant ammonite of Winspit shore


To Anvil Point across the quarries of Winspit

To Anvil Point across the quarries of Winspit

Let us go together on another walk.  This time we are planning to meet beyond Swanage, we are going to gather at the car park near to the Square and Compass in Worth Matravers.  I would suggest boots, for this one, or strong shoes,  but, let’s risk it doesn’t rain, and travel light - we shall be away about three hours.

In normal times Worth has not only the famous pub, with its exhibition of fossils and excellent pasties, there are tea rooms too, so the visitor is provided - once their walk is over - with facilities for coffee, lunch or afternoon tea, without bringing one’s own, but things are a little different now and maybe a stop along the coast for a snack would be the best plan.  So, suitably shod and with a coffee flask in the backpack, let us go forth!

Stepping down the minor road towards the pond we pass the Square and Compass above us to the left, and a path to Chapman’s Pool to our right and, after a hundred yards we come to the T-junction, at which we bear right for the village centre, pond, community garden and choice of ways to Seacombe, Winspit or St Aldhelm’s Chapel.  For the first two we continue downhill with the pond to our right; for St Nicholas’ Church, Renscombe and St Aldhelm’s Head we take the more obvious way, leading past the tea room, which is serving from a take-away menu, that we must resist!

Our path today takes us on the furthest left of these three ways, and very shortly we are directed to a narrow path with trimmed back nettles and well-trodden surface, again to the left, avoiding the signs clearly warning against walkers continuing in the road; the “No entry”, “No right of way” and a notice with a picture of a walker crossed out on it .  I think the owners don’t want us to make a mistake!

We leave the village, and enter a large sloping field with views to the sea, towards Winspit, but our way is ahead and down and up a steep dip, with sheep-trimmed turf, and already the meadow browns and small heaths are around us, which will be our regular companions throughout the walk today.  We rise the other side of the little dip and catch our breath with a look back to the village of Worth, stone built and nestling into the contours of the landscape with an ease and comfort that makes us think, “this has got to be a happy place”.  We have parted with people too, for this would not be the choice route out of the four that there are from Worth Matravers.  We are going to Seacombe, and reaching the other three places by accessing the coastal path, rather than heading to any one of them directly.

We are into rough pasture here; cattle and sheep grazed, we avoid the obvious signs of their presence and take note rather of the scrub that could easily take over this land without the animals to keep it back.  Here there are brambles and hawthorn, nettles and thistles, with broad areas of grassland between.  Reaching another kissing gate, the village now well out of sight behind us, the path, such as it is, dips down towards Seacombe and the pretty stream that follows the valley bottom.  Here with thickets, and with hidden ways between, and sheep shorn for the summer heat, a scene from a Hardy novel might be filmed, with just the birds in the bushes for company.  Over a simple wooden bridge, we join the track down from Priest’s Way, originally accessed far above us at Eastington Farm.

Following the stream we would soon reach the coastal path at Seacombe, and the quarries, with a slither down the stones of the bed of the brook to the shore, but we are not going that way, rather we take the path that rises to the track, above the quarries to Winspit and onwards westward, high above the sea and on a broad and quiet way to the next valley.  We count the steps through hawthorn and other bushes, conscious of the warmth of the sun in this sheltered part.  A speckled wood butterfly floats by and the song birds sing to left and right, whilst high above the sky is blue, and just flecked with distant cloud.

Levelling out, the coastal path at this point is invitingly flat, and we can socially distance without any trouble, side by side.  There are huge rocks lining the path as if some giant has tossed them here and there to line the way, a reminder that we are in serious quarrying country here, as soon the sight of significant old workings open below us, and between the path and the sea.  But a little further on, to the constant racket of skylarks - there are so many, one can’t pick out a single bird’s song, it’s a cacophony - just sublime and wonderful - there is a deep quarry, fenced above on our right.  Peering to its depths, with red valerian the prominent flower of the cracks, a peregrine nearly takes a pigeon from the air a few feet above us; just missing, it folds back its angular wings and, with the swiftness of its kind, dives below the cliff edge on the sea side, and is gone.

Pulling ourselves back from such a sudden intrusion into the peace and quiet of the moment, will you walk with me as far as the next really open area, and take a few deep breaths and look around you?  To the left we see back to Dancing Ledge and as far an Anvil Point, just glimpsing the top of the lighthouse, to the right the path ahead to Winspit and St Aldhelm’s Head.  At our feet there are small heath butterflies - many of them - so tiny and delicate, yet they seem to trip us up as we try to avoid standing on them - not that we could, they are much too lively.  The air is warm and fresh; the flowers are from deep blue to yellow, with the pinkish-white of wild carrot; and below, the ever moving sea.  Light flickers off the water as it surges back and forth, and, far beyond, a single vessel ploughs its way westward.  We are alone; just us.  There will be more people at Winspit, but here, the only intrusion into the natural world around us is our own presence.

The area we are passing through is named East Man and is owned by the National Trust, but we are about to leave as we descend to Winspit, and even before that we can clearly see West Man, the other side of the valley.  Both of these hillsides have ridges on them and you might like to read the Historic England description of them:

Strip lynchets provide distinctive indications of medieval cultivation. They occur widely in southern and south eastern England, and represent prominent features on the Wessex chalkland. Strip lynchets, which are characterised by the presence of terraces known as `treads’ and scarps known as `risers', can vary in length, with some examples exceeding 200m. Many systems include groups of three lynchets, while others are known to contain six or more. The group of medieval strip lynchets at East and West Man are very well- preserved examples of their class. They form one of the largest surviving groups of such features within Dorset and represent a significant proportion of the open field system which was associated with the medieval manor at Worth Matravers. The lynchets will provide an important insight into medieval farming practices within the area. They are well documented and will contain archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the monument and the landscape in which it was constructed.

Whilst it would indeed be worthy of further investigation and a run up each hill, I’m going to leave them and take us straight on down into the dip, descending the steps to Winspit, through the scrub and bushes of hawthorn, blackthorn and wild cherry.  Once on the level, we cross the stream and scramble down the steep track to the rocky shore.  This is the highlight of the whole walk.  I am tempted to make our coffee stop here (which will end today’s blog - we shall continue tomorrow) but I have spotted a stone seat back on the path, that will do, once we have investigated the shore for a while.

This is a gorgeous rocky shore, exposed and sunny.  Near the water’s edge are rock pools with clear water and full of one of my favourite of all shore creatures - the common sea-anemone or beadlet anemone, Actinia equina.  We have caught the tide at the right point and the sea is washing in and out of the pools; the tentacles are open to the flowing water; they are jewels of the shoreline; simply beautiful.  But, this shore is famous for something that lived far longer ago, the fossil of the giant ammonite.  Do you know where it is?  It took us ten minutes to find it, but it is there alright and with the sound of the breaking waves behind us and the sheer majesty of the rock formations around us, the day has yet another perfect moment of calm.

Retracing our steps to the main path, we avoid the quarries and take the steps back to the coastal path on the slopes of West Man, heading towards St Aldhelm’s Head.  It is time to open the coffee flask, perch ourselves on a seat and enjoy the view, joined by a gull, who is interested in my cherry scone, but isn’t to get anything.  We watch the climbers and scramblers that find their recreation at the quarry faces beyond, families running round in the old workings below, and the sun on the sea beyond.  Onwards tomorrow!

John Mann