Our walk last Saturday took us back to Kimmeridge, and on a route that we had not taken since our first walk of any length in this area, more than three years ago. We parked in the village itself, beside the modest little church dedicated to St Nicholas’, like several others in this corner of the country. We opted to walk along the road to Kimmeridge Bay, as it was early and quiet and the views to left and right are impressive, even through the village itself, with roses, many still in bloom, trained up the cottage walls, and neatly trimmed wisteria promising a delight in the Spring.
The Clavell Tower was standing out clear above us, on the hillside behind Hen Cliff. The tower, moved and restored in recent years, was a folly constructed two hundred years ago when an ordained member of the Clavell family, John Richards, inherited the estate after his brother’s death in 1813. The construction was to mark his 70th birthday in 1830. There was an interesting article on the restoration in Dorset Life two years ago, in the issue of December 2018.
Looking the other way below us across the fields, the scene was quite wintery, though the air was mild enough and we were already loosening scarves and unzipping jackets as a great-spotted woodpecker flew the length of a hedge at the field bottom, settling high in an ash tree, and flocks of smaller birds blew hither and thither.
Mud was always going to be an issue on this walk. Our minds went back to September 2017 when we were not well-enough shod, and the memory of the steps at the carpark edge of Kimmeridge Bay was renewed by the sticky footings, well trodden by many dogs and humans every day. We climbed up beyond them, towards the nodding donkey still drawing oil from far below, its regular, almost silent, action all part of the ebb and flow of this village and area, that has a significant history above and below ground, off-shore and on it, that is far beyond this blog to encompass.
Entering the military zone and obediently following the yellow poles, we walked for some distance without sight of another hiker, except for a couple, one in a brilliant red coat striding the ridge above us. The sea draws one’s attention here, with sections of eroded cliff having carried parts of the path into the sea as we start the ascent to Tyneham Cap, and onto the South-West Coastal Path.
Stopping for coffee at a seat thoughtfully placed just before the final rise and looking westward, there is a superb view, that would be slightly aided by the removal of the top strand of barbed wire, which from the seated position runs across one’s eye-line. But, that minor inconvenience to one side, it is a magnificent spot for a rest and some refreshment, and we were ready for it.
Along the ridge back to Kimmeridge, with ancient hawthorn bushes and ash trees forming a boundary to our left, and the land sharply falling away to the right, this is a very special walk indeed. As a Swanage resident, I can’t help but feel it can’t match the wonders of Durlston on one side and Ballard Down on the other, but it is a fine pathway nonetheless. We met a few other walkers, slid cautiously down some of the muddy areas churned up by cattle, and breathed the fresh air that was abundant and invigorating.
There were one or two people picking their way across sodden fields on the path back to the carpark at Kimmeridge Bay, but we were reassured in having chosen to park by the church, to which we returned from the road above the old parsonage, set as it is amongst venerable trees, its roof and chimneys having covered the home of many incumbents, before, like so many others, this church, locked against the virus’ spread and with only occasional services, became part of a benefice much larger, with second homes and quietly declining congregations, but symbolically at least, and with the sleeping villagers of the centuries past, remains a sign of Christ’s presence in the centre of our being and the heart of our communities.