The South-west Coast Path

My upbringing, although good in many respects, didn’t prepare me well for being a parent, even less for having shared custody. Despite this, I was a devoted father, although some of my ideas about how to entertain children seem in retrospect curious.  I began to suspect something was wrong when touring the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and my elder daughter was quite clearly feigning interest in the exhibits to make her father happy. I wasn’t completely hopeless; I did make great efforts to indulge her interest in riding. It was after one such holiday that the penny finally dropped. I was reluctant but I couldn’t say no to her eagerness to walk along the coast path together for a few miles. And then I saw her joy at being in the open countryside, surrounded by hundreds of rabbits running in every direction and realised that we needed to take it easy on the pot shards.

We camped at Seatown, the next settlement before continuing inland to visit my mother in her small town. It’s an idyllic memory, the more so because not so long after she came into her teens and child-parent closeness faded for a few years.

Since then, I’ve walked all of the south-west path between West Bay and Exmouth (in many stages) but never east of West Bay until now.

All this was going through my mind as I got out of my taxi in the village of Burton Bradstock to reach the coast path and walk west to West Bay. It looked easy on the map, no closely bunched contour lines or sharp climbs up to the top of the cliff. It wasn’t quite like that on the ground. First it was pleasant, then there was an awkward passage through a poorly marked caravan park and a considerable climb that I avoided by going down to the shore.

Walking along the shore can be tricky as it’s easy in these parts to get cut off by the tide. It’s not usually dangerous but can involve a long cold wait crouched on a rock or a humiliating rescue. It’s also not advisable to walk too close to the cliffs either as they are unstable and chunks frequently fall off, especially when the winter weather brings penetrating rain and frost.

People still sit at the base of the rocks, despite the signs warning them not to and despite the evidence around them of substantial chunks of rock scattered at the cliff foot. Every so often, somebody is hurt and even killed but it is still not taken as seriously as it should be.

But high tide had just passed and the water was receding and there was a comfortable strip of dryish beach between the shore and the base of the cliff so I went on until all the other walkers had disappeared and there was just me and a desolate beach for a while before people started to appear who had walked in the other direction.

Progress was slow and you had to keep an eye open for the occasional larger wave. I managed to do this on all but one occasion when lost in thought I found myself going for a paddle with my boots on.

It wasn’t quite as idyllic as my walk with my daughter but I’m glad I did it. The next section approaches the Swannery at Abbotsbury with its almost mediaeval atmosphere and Chesil Bank, strange bank of stone and shingle parallel to the coast with a brackish lagoon on the land side. But that’s for another trip.





Roman Catholics in Dorset, Chideock

Making use of the fine weather, after being confined to the flat for a couple of days with a cold, I decide to make for Chideock. It’s not far from Bridport, just a few kilometres on the Lyme road but it takes a while as austerity has not been kind to rural bus services. I can’t get into St Giles, the parish church, as building work is in process so, after I quick look at the outside, I walk up the lane towards the rather large Roman Catholic church beside Chideock manor.

There are a few places in Dorset where the Reformation didn’t altogether manage to crush the Catholic church, usually where a local landowner was catholic  so that services could be discreetly held in a barn or some other outhouse during the “penal period” when it was illegal.

Another such place was Marnhull in North Dorset  where my own ancestors came from. Here in the eighteenth century, the same people appear in the registers of both the Protestant church (as was at one time required by law) and of the Catholic church (presumably this only applied to birth and marriage and not death…).  Here too important members of the local gentry were Catholic.

Marnhull provided a refuge for nuns fleeing the French Revolution.

These areas seem to have survived if they were sufficiently out-of-the-way and discreet and didn’t pose any form of challenge to the authorities. Chideock has its martyrs, however, described in detail in the museum attached to the church.

There is another religious curioso in the nearby village of Whitchurch Canonicorum (Canons’ Whitchurch), where the church dedicated to St Wite (Candida) contains a shrine to the saint where visitors have left requests for the saint’s assistance. I’m not sure what the Protestant Chuch’s formal position is on this, but I believe it is very unusual in a Protestant church.

Back to Bridport after another long wait for the bus.

I’m beginning to feel sated with church architecture for the time being. I need to read more to sort my ideas out about neo-Gothic architecture. As you travel about Dorset, you realise the massive scale of church rebuilding in the nineteenth century and that there are few churches that fit neatly into the mediaeval classifications.

Beyond the Saxon realm to the foreigners’ corner

Travelling west through Charmouth and Lyme Regis but also back in time as the landscape is full of memories for me. Slow progress on the bus followed by slow progess on an Exeter-bound train quickening for a while after I join the express to Cornwall, only to slow down again after we cross Brunel’s great bridge across the Tamar and approach the country’s periphery. The end of the journey is still a bit too quick for me as I miss my stop through an ill judged pit stop and travel on to the end of the line in Penzance. But using time and money to correct past mistakes is just part of the game these days and I roll back by taxi to St Ives with unbatted eyelids.

The next day my old schoolfriend whom I haven’t met for almost a half century takes me to see the old undersea tin mines along the coast. The environment is beautiful, the history of the mines less so with stories of broken cables that send over 30 people hurtling to their deaths at the bottom of the shaft, the almost certainly ineffective attempts at self protection by those processing arsenic and forms of ”employment” where miners bid for an area to work on and settle up at the counting house according to the amount extracted.





Bridport daggers and rope walks

According to the local Marshwood Vale magazine, the joke about the Bridport dagger goes back to Tudor times when Henry Leland, “geographer to Henry VIII” remarked that good daggers were made in Bridport, not realising that the Bridport dagger was slang for the hangman’s noose, made of rope from Bridport.

The town is proud of its rope-making tradition which goes back at least to the 13th century, based on abundant supplies of flax and hemp which grew in the vicinity and water power from the town’s rivers.

It supplied the English Navy with rope until 1610 and  when the navy started to make heavy rope in-house, diversified to other types of cordage and netmaking.

In the early days before water power was replaced by steam and the workers were gathered in factories, there was a lot of outwork, where families received hemp and flax from the merchants and then processed the raw material by spinning it in 100 metre long rope walks.  The traces of this early industrial activity can still be seen  in the odd rectangular plots of land beside the houses, now transformed into gardens.

And the tradition is not completely dead as Amsafe, according to its website, a world leader in aviation restraint technology (airplane safety belts among other things) has a substantial plant in the town (as well as in Phoenix, Arizona).

I spent the morning walking along the river, looking for old mills and rope walks and wandering around the old industrial and pre-industrial quarters. Quite a lot to see but I have to force myself to concentrate as I’m poorly educated and difficult to enthuse when it comes to the technical. But to really understand a place, it’s important to know.

I’d intended to continue with Bridport’s other industries – brewing and tanning but a half day was enough for me and I rushed back to my computer.

Tomorrow will be a long day when I leave for St Ives in Cornwall for the weekend to see an old friend whom I haven’t met for a very long time.

Sources: “Walking Textile History”, The 4 Museums, 2018                                    “The Rope, Net and Twine Industry of Bridport”, Bridport Museum Trust




All is soft and green when the wind is from the south-west. It’s so restful compared with the Scandinavian winter struggle against the elements. I’m not sure that I could live in the West Country – there’s too much of what I am today that wouldn’t belong. But I love to be reminded of what it feels like to be in this countryside, which was my everyday life in my teens.

I decide to walk to Bothenhampton, a few kilometres from Bridport, past sad no longed served bus stops. It’s deeply rural, quiet with few people about although we are not far from suburban West Bay and the artics on the A35.

I’m pleased to find Prior’s Gothic revival church open and go in to admire the arches.  I’m  becoming very interested in Gothic revival architecture. Once very dismissive, I have now seen both the horrible and the very good and want to know more. I have to make a reading list and integrate this into my plan for 2019 (which is still at the vision stage, although the delay hardly matters as large parts of my plan for 2018 will be recycled).

I manage to do my 10,000 steps, the first time for a while.

I’ve decided to use my time in Bridport to study the local area thoroughly and not wander too far afield in the county. Tomorrow I shall try to see what i can find of Bridport’s industrial heritage, what lies behind the attractive central streets.


By bus to Beaminster

Half running and the last person to catch the bus, narrowly avoiding being squeezed in the doors, I expect the driver to start with an irritated jerk. Not so. He asks me (jokingly) if I’m too young to have a free pensioners pass and I answer not too young but too foreign. He wants to know where and how long I’ve lived abroad, seemingly oblivious to marginal matters such as passengers. Then he asks about the social situation in Sweden. First I think he wants to know about what social life is like but no he’s interested in pensions and care and so on. I answer him as succinctly as I can and he seems satisfied. Then looks at me and says in a conversational tone, I suppose we’d better get going as if he wanted input from me before taking such a drastic step. And after I confirm his view of the world, off we go. I rather like people who forget about their role (it reminds me of me).

It feels liberating to be on a bus moving through the soft, green, Marshwood Vale through Melplash and on to Beaminster with the Dorset hills in the background. mild and damp and the wind is coming from the south-west.  Until now, I’ve now mostly stayed in my room and worked, sorting out loose ends after six weeks in India and fixing a few bits of translation. It’s refreshing to feel the world of work loosening its grip.

Beaminster is a pleasant small town although its population of just over 3.000 makes it more the size of a village. But it feels like a small town. Pevsner doesn’t have much to say about the secular buildings and I realise that I have to dig more in the archives in Dorchester and visit Beaminster again, preferably in the morning when the light is better..

The church tower is very fine and there is a monument I like with a man and woman discussing a book (where can one sign up for this variant of death…) The church is dedicated to St Mary like Bridport’s parish church. I’d like to know more about dedications and need to get a map of all the parishes in the relevant sees (Sherborne and Salisbury) to see what patterns there may be.

The bus back to Bridport is full of schoolchildren. A boy indicates a vacant seat beside him, which I gratefully take (do I look so lost when I’m just trying to make up my mind?). He then asks me how my day has been and I tell him it’s been OK. He seems a bit flummoxed when I ask him how his day has been. He mumbles an answer which I can’t hear and we proceed more or less peacefully to Bridport.