Yesterday, we took the radical decision to walk to Dancing Ledge the opposite way to that we have taken before. In other words, rather than starting along Priest’s Road and out to Spyway Barn and across the fields, we went straight out to the coastal path and came back along Priest’s Road.
We began just after 9.00 a.m. and headed up Townsend Road, waved off by John and Jane as we passed Dinosaur Footprints, and were soon assessing the feel of the footpaths, which are slowly drying from the pre-Christmas rain, but are still sticky with mud where water had lain in the dips, and on what had been some very boggy fields. The National Trust - especially in view of the paths in the Lake District - have been encouraging us not to widen paths to what they claimed was twenty or more feet, in order to avoid the mud, but, if properly clad in boots, to “embrace the squidginess”. We had a bit of that during the course of the morning.
The first part of this walk is very familiar to us, and to many who live in our corner of Swanage, it is one of the standard routes to Anvil Point, and to gain access to the coastal path. We know how the gates work and where the wobbly stones lie - and the places where it is likely to be most muddy. We walked for some way without seeing anyone, except in the distance.
Walking in winter along paths that are familiar from spring and summer flowers, butterflies and skylarks, one notices different things, but remembers the warm sunny patch where lay the adder, the field carpeted in cowslips, the small heath and blue butterflies dogging one’s steps. Yesterday it was the remaining rose hips and sloes, the old man’s beard and the still-flowering gorse, and the things that are more obvious on the bare branches, especially the lichens.
The sea was calm yesterday. Actually, it has been for a few days, but there was that variation of depth of cloud across the sky, that suggested that the sun might break through as we looked westwards, whilst behind us there was a thicker covering. Out on the horizon, there was a glowing line, as if, far out to sea, the sun was on it, but even there a ship lay in a kind of haze, and I thought of Philip Larkin’s description, in his poem “To the Sea”, as the light at sea changed and a steamship lost its crisp outline in fuzziness. He wrote, “Like breathed-on glass/The sunlight has turned milky”. How often we see that across towards the Isle of Wight as the air becomes hazy and we lose definition.
We took the lower coastal path, and, apart from being passed by two men about half-way, saw no one else until we reached Dancing Ledge. This was to be our coffee stop, and we located for a seat a suitable height stone, which happened to be immediately above the pool, which was well clear of the sea, with the tide being low. Looking just as inviting as the still depths of the pool, as we peered down from above, was the hollowed out under cliff area to our left, and beyond the rocky ledge on which we stood. Inaccessible, but with deep blue-green water, a stream from above scatters its outflow, and, in individual droplets, the shower falls into the sea, mysteriously turning to silver on the surface.
The ascent to Spyway Barn was next, allowing ourselves pauses for breath and the excuse to look at the view. Across the sodden field the path has widened well beyond the twenty feet, as people went wider and wider to avoid the water and mud. Chattering sparrows assailed us from the hedge of the first cottage, hidden in its tight thicket, and we pressed on to the Priest’s Road in the direction of Swanage. For some while it descends gently, the old, last-year’s, long, trailing dog rose and bramble growth, like whippy tendrils, were reaching out as if to grab us on either side, but the cold breeze, that had been fairly constant along the coast path, was gone.
South Barn and Belle Vue Farm passed we took the narrow path back to Herston. A few families were about exercising their children or dogs - or both - and peering into gardens here and there, the early signs that spring is not far away are obvious enough. Swelling buds and a few flowers here and there are replacing the coloured lights of Christmas, but we were ready for some heat, and glad of the warmth of the house, before planning the next thing, which happened to be some digging in the garden - and the soil is just right …..