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.