I think that we shall take another virtual walk today! Come with me. Sit back in your chair, and imagine the way. We are going to walk to Dancing Ledge. Let’s start at the Black Swan, that has just begun ‘take away’ meals on Friday and Saturday evenings, as well as for Sunday lunches. The phone number is easy to remember as the last three numbers are double the first three, so we shall recall that for when we are home, and book a slot for later in the week!
Off we go along High Street to the Legion Club and turn left onto Priest’s Road. This road, which becomes a path and then a very good track, is a very ancient way linking Worth and Langton Matravers with Swanage, as the priest made his way from the former to the latter, in the days when Swanage was nothing more than a hamlet.
Priest’s Road is familiar Church-wise differently today as it effectively links St Mark’s and St Mary’s and I walk it often. Reaching Cow Lane the way, which is well signposted, veers up and to the left, then follows a track, again clearly indicated behind houses, to the right. On this part of the walk we are meeting others and are careful with our social distancing, not that the dogs quite have the idea yet.
As the track becomes a narrow path, just pause with me a few times and, hoping no one comes the other way - its okay, there is no one about at the moment - take these few metres nice and easy, with the birds singing in the thickets and the butterflies alive in the sunshine, mostly speckled woods and whites, but did you catch a sight of the red admiral as it floated by?
Pressing on, and already feeling a little warmed from the walk and the pleasant sheltered sunny path, we are arriving at the first of several divisions in the way. Let us just stand to one side and allow the runners behind us to surge past. We don’t want to be pushed up the hill and find it difficult to get out of the way. But we shall go left and take this upward path with meadowland to the left and hedgerow to our right, as we approach Belle Vue and a place where five paths meet. I expect that you have stopped at this point too, and thought, “Which way shall I go today?”
We are going to take the straight track slightly to our right, which is nice and level and leads us well into the country, as we head towards South Barn, and onwards on Priest’s Way, as if our destination were Worth Matravers. In fact we are going to turn left at a right angle in the track through a small gate beside a large farm gate, past the limekiln and round with open fields on either side, and enjoying the views to our right especially, as the land falls away towards Langton. These are all grazed meadows, and this ancient stone track must have seen many a cow and calf, or herd of beef cattle pass along its length.
Beside the track, on a left hand bend just beyond the barns, there are massive stones set as a kind of kerb, yet protecting a drainage channel the other side. These must have taken some siting and have been in place for an age. Now, before we enter the part of the track between high hedges, take in with me a little more of what is around us: lush growth in the verges, small birds flitting hither and thither, jackdaws and crows and gulls about their business above, the ancient stones beneath our feet dusty with the encrusted and dried mud of much wetter days. It’s getting warmer too as the path is becoming more sheltered again and the sun full on us, as the track rises and our eyes naturally are catching the swallows glancing the tops of walls and bushes and the bees and butterflies enjoying the warmth and light.
As to the butterflies, the early small tortoiseshells, peacocks, brimstones and commas are all disappearing and we shall see few enough now until the new brood begins to appear late June, but there are increasing numbers of whites and always the chance of a small copper, one of the tiny gems, of which there are several even at this stage in May. Anyway, time to move on, and end our little reverie in the sheltered heat of this fine track.
Crossing one path (from Langton to the coast) we keep straight on until the left turn to Spyway Barn. Plenty of swallows here, in and out of the old buildings, before the two meadows between the barns and the viewpoint at Spyway Hill open their glorious vista before us. Now, close your eyes and see the buttercups. The fields are golden with them, picked out with the white of the daisies. They are coming into their best and with hawthorn-blossomed hedges and a blue sky, can we ask for much more? Just while you are sitting there taking it all in and answering that question, if you can, I am going to add to the joy - for it is surely this that makes for perfection, as we imagine ourselves there - by noticing what has been in your hearing all this time: the sound of the skylarks.
Crossing the wall onto the high path running parallel with the coastal way, but well above it, we look west to St Aldhelm’s Head with the chapel on the skyline and directly below to Dancing Ledge, our destination. The walk down the hill is lovely; more buttercups, a few remaining cowslips, the grass growing springlike, and still the skylarks sing their hearts out. Over the style and down the steps to Dancing Ledge, time for coffee and the flask comes out. Now it is the vastness of this seaside plateau that is before us; its carved out rocks and crevices are massive, the sea breaking white against the blue waves lower still. Linger with me here and sit a while. Two guillemots scoot past, low on the water, gulls wheel and glide, and a shag makes its stately way to who knows where?
Up again and get the legs working. It is nearly four miles home along the coast. We shall take the upper path most of the way, but for a change start on the marked coastal path by the fence above the cliffs first, the thrift dancing pink in the breezy sunshine. Then having gone over the next wall, turn left and through the lush meadows between thickets and with more beautiful flowers at our feet we ascend to the earth path above, which is dry now and easy going. Wall butterflies, dingy skippers, wheatears, gold finches and linnets, with more swallows and stone chats announcing their presence too, we have more loveliness to enjoy, whilst, of course, the skylarks are our constant companions.
Approaching Durlston one is tempted to think that such countryside goes on for ever. We know that it does not, and that even sitting as we do at home imagining it all once again, we hold a rare and amazing privilege to be able to enjoy, even in memory, what others would dearly love to see.