Last Saturday was a fine day for a walk: a gentle breeze, sunshine and a clarity to the air that brought things close to, from the abundant flowers of the bramble to the distant sight of the Isle of Wight. We re-traced a favourite way past hedgerows and broad banks to the sight of the sea at Dancing Ledge.
Beginning from the Saturday-morning busyness of Church Hill and the current extra traffic brought about by the new layout of one-way streets in Swanage encouraging more vehicles up High Street and many hesitating at Arkwright’s. Looking to escape and unsure of where they are, they dive down our hill and take its right-angled bends, especially that at the Rectory Classroom, with an abandon that is very dangerous for the pedestrian, especially the elderly and the children. Whoever had this idea couldn’t have reckoned with this problem, and, apparently, the trial has more than a year to run.
We were not the only walkers disturbed by the confused drivers; we met others heading out on the paths for the coastal ways. Today we took the Priest’s Way, as we have done before, and we were soon amongst the voluptuous bindweed banks that fringe the narrow beginning of the path, once the houses are left behind, and the track ascends through the fields. This is a little sun trap, with butterflies ever present when the light is good, and the shelter offering cover for the large and small whites that lazily float by. Up further, we begin to appreciate how far on the summer is getting, with the long grasses now generally the colour of straw, and the nettles a less than appetising dark and stringy green, growing tall and stretching or falling across paths to catch the unwary bare arm or knee.
There are bright orange gatekeeper butterflies in the sunlit patches of bramble and traveller’s joy, the thickets of hedgerow shrubs and ageing roses, and the honeysuckle and nameless other plants that weave their place in the pattern of summer growth. In open ground the marbled whites are now supreme, a fresh one settles on scabious or knapweed crying, “photograph me!”, then with obvious delight flutters off as the shutter opens just too late.
There are young birds about, demanding their dinner from overworked parents, and still a few small calves in the occasional field taking theirs without fuss, but everything looks dry and ready for a shower, even the stones in the track seem harder and less forgiving when the dust of July does less to cushion our feet than does the mud of December.
The way towards Spyway barn has the feel of an ancient path, with high hedges and solid well-constructed stone features right along. These ways have been walked for centuries, and now as we pass each other at our two-metre best, the smile of young and old are more tuned to the rhythm of the days we are in, than the old memories of the countless generations of cattle and sheep that have stepped this way before us.
The two fields between Spyway barn and the upper coastal path are dry and brown, but skylarks are still above, as they were when these same fields were golden with buttercups and green with the bursting life of spring. Hard as concrete the worn track beneath our feet is wide enough for groups of six or eight to pass, and, there beyond, the sun shining upon it, the sea lies in all its glittering glory.
These slopes are full of butterflies; hundreds of them. Skippers are in abundance, the Lulworth tiny and with a kind of greenish tinge; the female with the tell-tale crescent of pale golden dots; marbled whites are everywhere, as are the numerous gatekeepers, with an odd red admiral and the dark gliding form of an occasional peacock. Taking the way back on the lower path this time, the sea below us with boats and helmeted swimmers off Dancing Ledge itself, the deep clear water looks inviting and cool.
Further round the swifts are busy - maybe thirty or more - feeding near their nest-sites and flashing back and forth, with their circling, banking and weaving flight as often below us, from this height, as above us. The areas of wild carrot, so much a feature of open ground just now, make the landscape look less tired than it might do otherwise, and the opening teasels show that violet shading that seems so attractive to the bees.
Out beyond, the yachts are sailing in the pleasant breeze, the sea has just enough movement to be interesting, and not too much to cause concern. Still the tiniest of butterflies make their presence felt from what seems to be a new emergence of small blues to the lovely skippers, clustering on flower-heads and diving from sight into the long grasses.
We returned through fields that not long ago showed the delicate flowers pf spring, but now the firmer heads of high summer, purple and white, stand erect for the bees and ladybirds, beetles and butterflies to find their sweetness, and pause, as we do too, for the sound of the crickets and the incessant and tirelessly beautiful, song of the skylarks.