By Colin Walford
Route: Benville to Chesil Beach
Date: Friday September 14th 2012
Distance: 18.3m (29.5km)
Elevation: 516ft (157.2m) to 46ft (13.9m)
I awoke surprisingly early at 07:45am considering the time I got to bed and the fact I had been drinking. Rich and Mary had said I could use one of the pub bathrooms to freshen up, but their bedroom curtains were still closed. I decided to change into my walking gear anyway and wash when I could. I walked around the back of the pub and stripped off in an enclosed concrete yard, the supposedly quiet lane running past the pub being fairly active with cars, even at this time of the morning. I changed, shivering at the chilliness of the grey morning. I had poked my head out of my tent to heavy, sullen cloud cover and a waspish breeze. Then I sat around until Rich appeared. He shook my hand and wished me well, saying that he wouldn’t be having breakfast with me as he had to go into town to do some shopping. Rich sped off in his car and Mary let me in. Within minutes, she had brought me a bacon toastie and a hot drink. She wouldn’t accept any money, but asked me one thing. “Do me a favour, love? When you get home, send us an email so that we know you made it to the coast and are okay?”
I promised that I would and we chatted during breakfast, whilst she again allowed me to charge my phone. Finally, it was time to go. We hugged and Mary wished me all the best, reminding me again to email them once home. I walked back into the beer garden and went through the routine of packing up my tent and gear. It was about 09:30am when I stepped back onto Benville Lane to make my way back to my postcode route. As soon as I began walking the rain started to come down, cold and fitful. The road curved and climbed and took me through the tiny hamlet of Uphall as the rain pattered down with more meaning. I stopped here and did some filming of the transmitters, which were standing on top of the down in the mid-distance. Blue sky was trying to make itself known through ragged gaps in the clouds and the rain had suddenly stopped, but I reckoned that I was in for more of it before long. I walked on and soon came upon a metal gate, which was my entrance onto
BBC transmitters on Rampisham Down
After just over half an hour’s walking, I reached the top of this steep, chalk hill (221 metres or 720 feet) which is sat eight miles north-west of Dorchester in west Dorset. I crossed a lane, before coming to a secured gate covered in bright yellow and blue warning signs. Beyond this was a spread of pasture, upon which sat the twenty-six transmitter pylons; the location of one of the main transmitters of the BBC World Service in Europe. I had imagined that I would be able to walk between and beneath all of these giants and in fact, satellite maps clearly showed a path through the site. I can only think that these are paths set out for maintenance men and engineers because, clearly, Joe public would not be allowed to just traipse merrily through, potentially getting fried to death as they go. The signs all bespoke of the danger of high voltage electricity, so there was nothing to it but to walk along the lane I was stood by which would, anyway, take me into the village of Hooke and back on route. I stood here for a while, gazing at the impressive spectacle of all these transmitters, which had whole grid systems of wiring running from one to the other, each held in place by huge parallel or cross-shaped bars. The sky behind them was sullen and dark and for some minutes, I had to withstand another pelting rainstorm. I was then able to quickly get my camcorder out and do a bit of filming, before the next wave swept in. I stepped back onto the lane to begin my walk down the other side of the hill and into Hooke, noticing as I did so that my feet had become a little sore again. The lane started off by descending gently and then suddenly plunged downwards at Rampisham Hill farm, before then taking me up again. I had entered country that did this with regularity and for the rest of the walk, I found myself climbing and dipping over folds in the land. Rampisham Hill deposited me into Hooke, looking fresh after the morning’s showers and smelling of cut grass and damp.
Losing the route, finding the sea….
is a small village situated at the bottom of the valley of the short River Hooke, itself a tributary of the River Frome. It comprises of a church and dwellings for its population of 118 souls. It has a crossroads and not a lot else. I took a left at the crossroads and was taken into a kind of cul-de-sac of houses which made me come to a puzzled standstill. I had to consult my map closely to find my way out, which turned out to be a walk across a green to a fence and gate, through which I was to go into pasture beyond. However, the far side of this was ringed by a belt of trees and the footpath through it was invisible so I began a circuit, peering through clumps of Silver Birch to see if a track was in evidence. I was aware that I was looked upon by a whole row of houses, so consulted my map again. Yes, no doubt about it, there was a recognised walking route. It was just one of those that hadn’t been maintained. Actually, it had been totally dismissed, as I was finding out. A couple of abortive forays into the scattered trees only ended up with me retreating back into the sodden pasture, feet squelching in the long grass. I tried again in the far corner, where the trees looked thickest and where, therefore, I had avoided as being an unlikely source for my route. It was typical, then, that this was where I needed to go. I must have looked a bit disbelieving to anybody who may have been watching my exposed back from a bedroom window. Not only were there trees and brambles, but somebody had strung out metres of that silly, flimsy wire and tape barrier. It was all over the place and determinedly ignored the fact that there was a walking route through here, albeit obviously a little-used one. Never have I felt more like a trespasser as I stomped, bludgeoned and high-stepped over wires and poles whilst making a hot, steamy and ill-tempered progress in my rain clothes. At one point, I seemed to be at the bottom of somebody’s long garden and feared that here at least; I had wandered off-route. I quickly scrambled over the next set of fences and at last found myself in front of something substantial, namely a sturdy wooden gate and track beyond it. A property which, according to my map, was yet another Manor Farm sat on top of a small hill and looked down upon me, but there had been no challenge from anybody throughout the whole pantomime and nobody was in sight. I turned left through the gate and walked along and up a wet and muddy track, which soon took me out of Hooke and onto the top of raised ground where the track was stonier, near a place called Higher Kingcombe. I joined Common Lane, turning right onto it and ascending higher still. I stopped to film the receding transmitters on Rampisham Down and noted that I would soon be walking through a fish farm and then the However, I never encountered either of these, as a stupid lapse of concentration occurred when my mind wandered off elsewhere and I missed my turning and carried on along Common Lane. It finally began to dawn on me that I had been on this road longer than I should have been and my error was confirmed when I reached another crossroads, that I had noted on my map as being at Mount Pleasant. I could see that by turning left onto Clift Lane, the mistake was rectifiable but this wayward amble did provide me with a bonus. I had to strain to see over a high hedge, but in the distance….was that….? Yes, no doubt about it. There was a barely visible blue line that ran evenly beyond a range of softly contoured hills. I was looking at the sea! The south coast had just announced itself to me and I moved on at about a quarter-past twelve, with my spirits cranked quite a few notches higher.
Taking its Toller….
Clift Lane was fairly arduous; heaving steeply up and down and before long, putting me back on my route as I cut across fields by Northover Farmhouse. I had a mind to stop for lunch at the village of Toller Porcorum, as it sounded like a quaint and pretty place and I harboured hopes that it may contain an old inn, at which I could rest my throbbing feet and quench my thirst with a local ale. In actual fact, has grown a new estate of modern, somehow disappointing houses. It is situated in the Toller Valley and the addition Porcorum means ‘of the pigs’ in Latin. The village was, in the past, sometimes known as Swine’s Toller. As for the village pub, well ‘The Old Swan’ was closed by the brewery some years ago, who are still attempting to obtain planning permission to build yet more modern housing and having this vigorously opposed by the local council.
An embarrassment of scenic riches….
I now found myself on Barrowland Lane, which was straight and ascending and where I had to turn off onto a field at the Higher Woolcombe dairy. This involved a climb over a fence devoid of stiles, but I finally had a grand view of the open countryside in front of me and the sun had started to come out fiercely for the first time that day. I sat down on the grass, my back propped against a fence. My feet were painful and saturated and it was a relief to remove my boots and socks and hang the latter over the fence to dry as much as they could, after first wringing them out. I examined my bare feet, curious as to why they had suddenly decided to deteriorate during today’s marching. They were a bit battered looking and blanched by their constant immersion in water, but no worse than usual and there were no fresh sores or blisters. I wondered if it was all psychological because I knew that the end was in sight, leaving me more aware of the throbs and stinging. I let them dry in the cold wind and applied a liberal splash of sun cream to my head and face.
The End is in Sight
The Home Stretch….
I suddenly had an abrupt change of scenery when the White Way took me unerringly to the A35; a very busy trunk road linking Honiton in Devon to Southampton. It was wide and I had to scamper awkwardly across between gaps in the speeding vehicles, but the White Way continued on after this in another sweeping nose-dive towards the tiny village of ; my last one before I was due to reach the sea. I arrived there at 4:30pm and took a brief rest by a babbling brook which ran alongside the lane. A man was squatting at the bottom of his garden tending a border of flowers and the village thatched cottages, typical of the area, lay benign in the late afternoon sun. It was here that I decided to alter the course of my walking from the route I had put together. The simple fact was that I was running out of daylight hours and couldn’t afford to be wandering over rough country, as rugged and pretty as it all was. I looked at my OS map and quickly traced the route south using more direct lanes. Having said this, I did initially take to a field on Leaving Litton Cheney, one which rose sharply and briefly to give me delightful views of the countryside and the sea and then glided downwards to Park’s lane. I took advantage of a tall hedge for a toilet break, before crossing Rowden Bridge and continuing south. The way forward was direct and led me straight to and through Park’s Dairy House. There were people about, presumably working at the dairy. I half-thought that I would be challenged as I was in clear view of everyone as I strolled by, but nobody batted an eyelid and I began a steep climb up a stony track as I left them behind. The track was long and rough underfoot and took a good while to climb the 300 feet required to get me to the top of Abbotsbury Hill.
I stepped onto the B-road at the South Dorset Ridgeway and headed towards Abbotsbury, walking down Abbotsbury Hill. I reached a T-junction and had a decision to make. If I turned left, I would walk into Abbotsbury itself and be able to find a B&B to put my mind at rest about where I was sleeping later that night. On the other hand, if I turned right I would take myself steeply down and onto the beach itself, so that I could finish the walk. In the end, the pull of the latter was enough and I turned right but it was no fun, as I rapidly lost height, knowing that I would soon be hauling myself upwards again on tired and sore feet. I found myself in another fissure in the local landscape as I tramped past Chapel Hill on my left and joined The Macmillan Way, a route which took me to a car park via what looked like a tropical bird farm. The car park wasn’t a large one and I had soon made my way across it and up some steps, then onto a wooden platform with a hand rail on one side. The sun was riding down the sky as I walked the length of this and took some photographs. Then, I stepped onto
I walked with some difficulty across a rock-strewn bank and sat down at the edge of the sea. The waves crashed onto the beach with an even regularity; half meter cascades of foam, which sucked and pulled noisily and swept thousands of pebbles onwards with a strange, roaring whoosh. After a few minutes, I cast around and chose a smooth, flat stone to take home with me as a memento of my journey. I also placed onto the beach the rock I had picked up from the bank of the River Wye, way back in Herefordshire a week ago. I expect that it’ll remain there until it is eventually eroded away; God knows how many years in the future. Then, I simply sat and listened to it all for a while, whilst contemplating the fact that I’d done it. I’d completed Postcode South.