Time for another walk, I think, and this one does require a little drive and the £2 donated car park fee at the abandoned village of Tyneham. Not abandoned by its inhabitants, of course, but by the MOD as requisitioned land, never returned, from the last World War. Access, severely limited throughout most of the year, opens up during the school summer holidays and the large area for cars is likely to be full; fewer numbers of them from Tyneham visitors, but most from those whose attraction is a picnic at Worbarrow Bay, and the spectacular beach below the cliffs of Flower’s Barrow.
We start our walk at the village; a sight of incredible sadness: silted up, weed-ridden water-courses, with a large pond that is now a marsh of flag iris and reed mace; where water-mint and watercress once lined and filled the trickling brooks there is no open water; and sallow encroaches, and the huge unchecked larger trees loom with sinister shadows lying over the stifled community that once was, on a day anything less than the most glaringly brilliant.
The track around the right wall of the church, which has, at least, a roof and secure windows and doors; locked against the coronavirus, it proudly announces, “not yet” to the reaching hands of nettle, bramble and traveller’s joy, and we tackle the steeply rising way, winding to the top of Flower’s Barrow. Don’t let anyone say that there are no hills (to speak of) in the south of England, for this path climbs with heart-pounding intent, through a meadow where cattle graze and humans fear to tread. “Keep within the yellow poles”, is the safety warning, for dangerous ordnance lies, who knows where, amid the rolling parkland and once well-tended pastures of the former Tyneham estate.
Pausing above the scene opening below, with kestrels hovering at the level of an eye and the land falling steeply away, in late July it is with gatekeeper butterflies amongst the gorse and bramble, and the quietening songbirds of summer well-hidden in the scrub. Oddly, even on the top and turning sharply westward to the ancient hill fort of Flower’s Barrow, there are no skylarks today, disappearing into the mist, which is hanging like a cloak between the ridge and the sea, but it is warm enough for marbled whites and Lulworth skippers to settle, wings open on the ragwort - for us ever “cushag”, the Manx national flower - and curse of many a neglected field. Cinnabar moth caterpillars are munching happily at its scant foliage, but it is these bright, yellow flowers that declare this path, between banks of gorse, old pasture and barely cropped by an annual flock of not-so-ancient sheep.
The hollows round the ramparts of the Iron Age fort are tentatively welcoming to those who may step from the path, and hold with confidence their faith in the guidance of the yellow poles. They are a bit scanty here and, whilst this windswept place should hold views to east and even further to the west, the mist fools walkers into feeling this really isn’t much of a height or too-spectacular a place. It is though. It is magnificent, and another day we shall return to see it in the sun, turning from side to side as the breath-taking sight of sea and white cliffs holds us still and silent for a while.
The steep descent to Worbarrow Bay is one of those eyes-down and watch-your-footing kinds of worn and stoney path, that can slip away beneath one’s heel and land one suddenly upon one’s behind, so to pick out the low blue-flowered growth of hare-bell and self-heal and place the foot with care is wise, whilst hearty walkers ascend and chat and try not to gasp too much, whilst admiring the scene for a breather.
The paths behind the beach are busy, and, below the mist, basking in sunshine. There is activity and a general ambience of happy families enjoying summer. A little social distancing reminds us all that this world of beauty and stunning creative power, is also where distress and destruction are the everyday experience for millions. There is something in the surging back and forth of the sea, the abandoned dwellings of the village, the old hill fort, and the threat of death in the MOD signs that keeps us sane and reflective on how the divine and human world, in all its interactions, makes life what it is. We shall never fully plumb the depths of what the Incarnate Christ both revealed and endured.