A Long Walk Home – Chapter 3

250 million years ago, Dorset would have been an arid desert, somewhere near the equator, in the supercontinent of Pangea. Around this time, the earth began to break apart, gradually forming the continents we know today. The Dorset coastline, with its gargantuan cliffs of crumbling rock provides a cross section of the earth’s history, more spectacular than anywhere else in the world. A stroll across Charmouth beach and Lyme Bay can turn up fossilised ammonites and belemnites dating back 185 million years, to the Jurassic period. It is indeed here that Mary Anning (of ‘she sells sea shells’ fame) discovered the first complete Icthyosaur fossil, earning herself the name of the greatest fossilist who ever lived. The 96 mile stretch of coast, spanning two counties, is nothing short of breathtaking.

A week of walking had taken its toll on my feet. A blister, the size of a marble, had formed on my leftmost toe, then unexpectedly exploded on a stroll through the cobbled streets of Holybourne. Never having suffered from blisters before, and being a self confessed wimp when it comes to anything remotely disgusting, I had a reaction similar to that of a teenage boy being forced to watch the miracle of childbirth in a GSCE biology lesson. I managed to pull myself together, bandaging the wound as best I could. All the skin had come away from my toe and I was left with a bright red, almost cartoon like appendage. I hobbled around in agony for the next few days through The New Forest, but it did not improve. This is how I came to be in Weymouth, by way of Weymouth Community Hospital and three, very lovely nurses. The town of Weymouth is much like any other once popular seaside resort. The buildings which would once have appeared grand, now look dirty and many have fallen into disrepair. Shop windows are boarded up with few panes of glass intact. A sex shop remains open and boldly faces the train station, advertising its various adult offerings with blacked out windows and garish neon signs. I hastened to reach the seafront and out of the cesspool-esque ‘downtown’ district. The seafront was better, because you could keep one eye on the exit.

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I wasn’t the only one who had come to Weymouth for the weekend. Christopher Nolan, director of the recent Batman films, was also in town filming his new WWII epic, ‘Dunkirk’. As you can imagine, every single person in the hospital waiting room was buzzing with excitement about the stars of the film (Harry Styles and Tom Hardy). According to the nurses, Nolan had ordered that all the lamp posts be ripped from the pavements as they were not in keeping with his set design. I wandered the streets, testing out my new bandages. Most of the harbour had been fenced off, which in turn was surrounded by another fence of teenage girls, camping out in the hope to cock a snook at Harry Styles. It felt as though Hollywood coming to town might have been the best thing to happen to Weymouth in years. Every hotel and B&B in town was full and the seafront was a wash with tourists.

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I made the most of The Black Dog (Weymouth’s darkest, dingiest and, in my opinion, finest pubs), took a stroll along the windbreak riddled seafront, then made my escape along one of the oldest and finest footpaths in existence, the South West Coast Path. I don’t think I’ll return to Weymouth in a hurry, although its people were some of the best I’ve met. Perhaps you have to be of good character to live in a town that welcomes you with a sex shop and broken glass.

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As I headed up and over Weymouth, I could see Portland stretching out in front of me. My new bandages felt good and I decided to press on and see how far I could get before nightfall. I walked and walked, feeling like Frodo Baggins, as I left the masses for dust and struck out on my own across the coast. I thought I might pull an all night marathon and reach Lyme Regis by the sunrise. I don’t know what those nurses gave me, but it was working. Needless to say, after 10 miles I didn’t feel quite so heroic and began my search for a spot to spend the night. Looking for somewhere to sleep in uncharted waters can be a battle of wills. Do you stop early because you’ve found a cosy nook in a hill or do you press on hoping that there will be another further ahead? I entertained the thought of sleeping in a boat, but the ‘Last Chance’ was well christened, as the coast path soon veered off into the countryside and over farmland. I didn’t want to wake up knee deep in cow shit, so headed for the nearest town. Abbotsbury is a charming, two pub village with a swannery and not much else going on. I spied an abandoned chapel, almost identical to the one I’d spent a most uncomfortable night in, high up on a hill overlooking the village. I wasn’t in any hurry to repeat that experience, but it was looking like my only option. I made it to The Swan Inn, with minutes to go before closing time. I ordered a beer and explained to the barmaid that I was contemplating a night in the chapel.

“St Catherine’s? I wouldn’t do that If I were you. Slept there on Halloween a few years ago. Scared myself shitless.”

Being that St Catherine’s was the  name of the chapel I’d slept in a week or so earlier, I took her word for it. That’s when she offered me a few square metres of the pub garden. Sweet relief. I drank another three pints of beer then set about making camp. The instructions for my tent suggest that you should be able to achieve erection in roughly 5 minutes. Whoever wrote them had not consumed several pints of beer. I slept tremendously well, woke early and set off for the coast, chasing a nye of young pheasants all the way to Chesil Beach.

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Chesil Beach is a bank of a most impressive 180 billion pebbles. Stretching 18 miles along the Dorset coast, it creates a barrier shielding the Fleet lagoon nature reserve from the worst of the elements and provides a sanctuary for wildlife. I admit, I didn’t see much of this wildlife, aside from the odd gull or curlew, because I was trudging along through 180 billion tedious fucking pebbles. Walking through shingle is like trying to run up a downward moving escalator. You might do it once for a laugh, but then your legs hurt, you fall on your face and you never do it again. I walked 5 miles on the shingle before abandoning it and plodding, defeated, up the road and towards the most wonderful breakfast I’ve ever had.

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I descended a precipitous slope, running wildly out of control, towards a bay filled with yummy mummies and the cast of Made in Chelsea. It seemed they had all thronged to this spot for the same reason as me – gluttony. A swanky beach front bistro buzzed with holiday makers. I joined them. I had worked up quite an appetite on the shingle so ordered the most extravagant breakfast on the menu – Eggs Royale, a coffee and a pint of beer. It was 10:30 in the morning. I watched the waves, ate my breakfast and washed some painkillers down with beer. My feet were in tatters. Having ignored the advice from the nurses to rest for a few days, I felt a bit stupid for having marched out of Weymouth as fast as I could. As I drank my beer, another rakish mood surfaced. I would not walk the last couple of miles to Lyme Regis. Nope. I would get a bus.

I should have walked. The bus didn’t come for hours. I’d have been there in that time walking. I sat on a bench, willing it to come. Just then, someone I hadn’t seen in over 10 years pulled up to the bus stop.

“Will!? What are you doing here?”

I Panicked. What was I doing?

“Er um I’m er…”

“Are you hiking the coast path?”

“Yeah.”

Yeah seemed easier than explaining that my toes hurt and I’d just had a beer for breakfast and I was skipping a couple of miles because I couldn’t face any more shingle and that really it wasn’t cheating because I’d walked an extra mile here and an extra mile there. Well, eventually the bus came and took me on an incredibly long route to Lyme Regis. I realised, as I sat on the vomit inducing bus, that I had missed out on reaching the summit of the Golden Cap – the highest cliff in the south. That will teach me to drink beer for breakfast.


 

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