I had walked some sections of this path previously. This was an attempt to do it all in one sweep. I used buses to and from Weymouth to get to and from different start and finish points which saved on accommodation costs. I went from east to west, probably not the most popular direction, but my choice. I was joined by D for the whole walk and by E and M, each for one day stretches. Thank you all for your company. We were very lucky with the weather; a tiny spell of drizzle and some cloud but mostly fine. My overall impression is that this is a undemanding walk with stonking views, very well waymarked and with many fascinating features. Considering, you are always close to “civilisation” it can feel quite remote, which, I think, is a good feature.
Before I came to write this I knew that at least some of the path was an alternative inland route for the South West Coast Path. I have now discovered that up until 2013 this was the route for the South West Coast path. It cut out Portland and Weymouth and reduced the total distance of the National Trail by about 40km. Now it is known as the South Dorset Ridgeway. It is still considered to be part of the National Trail so the acorn emblem can be seen on the waymark signs. The official route goes between West Bexington and Osmington Mills, a distance of 27.5km according to the South West Coast Path Association website https://www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk/walksdb/188/. I chose to start walking at Poxwell and finish at West Bay both of which are on the bus route of the excellent Jurassic Coast Explorer, the X53.
The first day was a walk from Poxwell to Upwey. The bus dropped us off at Poxwell right by a bridleway that led us gently up to join the South Dorset Ridgeway in the field just above the white horse. The bus stop was also close to the rather impressive Poxwell Manor, recently for sale at an asking price of £3.75 million. According to the website https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poxwell, the village has Roman origins and is listed in the Doomsday Book. There is a mini-Stonehenge in the village near the footpath. But Thomas Hardy fans will be most interested to know that Poxwell Manor is known as Oxwell Manor in the Hardy novel The Trumpet Major.
I had selected this route because I had previously joined the Ridgeway path from Osmington and found the track to be very wet and claggy. The bridleway from Poxwell was clear and, in contrast, dry underfoot. When you reach the Ridgeway path proper there are fabulous views over Weymouth Bay.
Unfortunately, there is no view of the White Horse with King George from this path. To get a glimpse you will need to take a footpath, clearly marked, down the hillside and clamber back up afterwards. As is usual with such features though, I think, they are much better viewed from afar than close up.
The walk soon passes tumuli (singular tumulus – a mound of earth and stones over a grave). There are dozens of them along the path and a fair few forts also. Spring Bottom, a combe leading down to Sutton Poyntz, is a particulary attractive feature that the path skirts around the top of. Not long after we passed Green Hill and crossed the Combe Valley Road just by the enormous earthworks of Chalbury Hillfort. A little further on the path passes the distinct Strip Lynchets on the hillside. (A lynchet is a “bank of earth that builds up on the downslope of a field ploughed over a long period of time” according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynchet.) These ones are quite narrow, maybe 50cm or so wide and the slopes are quite steep; too steep for ploughing, I would have thought. Shortly after this the path descends to the small village of Bincombe with its pretty little church.
Leaving Bincombe there is a short stretch of road walking before turning right and heading northerly through farm land along a farm track. At the end of the track we spied golfers across the road but turned left and climbed steadily until we skirted round a radio tower(?) and started to descend towards the A354 main road. We walked alongside the road at the top of the cutting, out of sight and hearing of the traffic, where masses of cowslips were blooming in the chalky soil. At the new bridge we crossed the road and soon left the Ridgeway path to descend into Upwey for a late lunch. Unfortunately, the Old Ship Inn was shut so we walked to the Wishing Well, where we had an excellent lunch followed by an interesting walk around their garden.
After our lunch we took the footpath back to the main road during which we had a nervous encounter with some excited and boisterous young cattle. All passed peacefully, however, and we took a number 10 bus back into Weymouth.
Next day, we returned to the path using the No 10 bus, walked up to rejoin the Ridgeway path where we left it, then turned left and headed towards Hardy’s monument. This section of the walk is airy and feels just like a ridge walk should, with ground falling away on both sides. To the north there are views of Maiden Castle, Dorchester and Martinstown and to the south the coastline and sea. Maiden Castle looks to be unbelievably large considering it was constructed without any mechanical aids. It is testament to the skill of our forebears that a small section of drystone wall a short distance along the path is being painstakingly reconstructed over many months. It must have taken much longer to construct when the stones had to be manhandled up there in the first place.
There are tumuli and shake holes a-plenty and we met a horsewoman on the top after she galloped up a side ridge, profiled against the blue sky. It is clearly an ideal habitat for skylarks and we saw stonechats and whitethroats and other warblers. There is a steady climb up to the Hardy Monument which grows in size as you walk along the ridge. It is actually 22m high and was erected in 1844 (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardy_Monument) it was built in honour of Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy (of “kiss me Hardy” fame) and, in keeping with the nautical theme, is visible at sea from a distance of up to 100km. The shape is meant to be that of a spyglass and the eight corners are aligned with the points of a compass. The tower is now open to the public and I could not resist taking a climb to the top, where the views are spectacular. You are apparently able to see as far as the Isle of Wight, But I did not manage to spot it.
While it was sunny there was quite a strong easterly wind and by walking just down from the car park we found a sheltered spot for some lunch. Suitably refreshed we continued downhill and into Benecke Wood with masses of bluebells, a very evocative spring smell.
This days walk was due to end at Abbotsbury with the X53 bus back to Weymouth. We carried on out of the wood and looked briefly at the substantial remains of Black Down Barn. We followed the Ridgeway up Portesham Hill and on past Hampton Farm with some very active and smelly large muck spreaders. The Hampton stone circle is very unpreposessing and barely visible in the undergrowth. Shortly after crossing Bishop’s Road we took the bridleway down into Abbotsbury.
This was an excellent days walking, and a few pints of Jurassic beer were both appropriate and very welcome.
The final day started with the bus out to Abbotsbury and, after a slight false start caused by my casual map reading, we ascended past Jubilee Coppice and more lynchets to another airy section of the Ridgeway path. The earthworks around Abbotsbury Castle, an Iron Age hill fort, are steep and it must have been a formidable defensive position, although, according to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbotsbury_Castle) the Romans overran it quickly in AD43 and then moved on to Maiden Castle. The views from here are impressive, though we had some mist and low cloud. But this shot from the beacon at Wears Hill gives some idea of the magnificence of the scene.
Soon after this we descended quite rapidly and crossed the coastal road. The Ridgeway Path continues into West Bexington but I really felt we had left the Ridgeway behind. After walking parallel to the road for a short while we descended again down a track and into the village of West Bexington. I had not been there before and it was a very unexpected surprise. There are a few houses and a very pleasant hotel: The Manor House, just right for a coffee stop. At the end of the road above a steeply shelving shingle beach is a small car park and a coffee bar. We walked through the car park and turned right to continue on the Coast Path into West Bay.
In parts, the shingle made walking hard going, but we were buoyed along by a chorus of frogs or toads calling noisily and persistently in the water meadows behind the beach. We also spotted a grey plover in its breeding plumage, my first sighting of this striking plumage. The grey plover breeds in Artic regions so it was maybe temporarily misplaced, but very welcome. This image is from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_plover.
There were a few caravan parks to negotiate before we went up and over and down into West Bay, very busy on that sunny Saturday afternoon.
We had plenty of time before we caught the bus back to Weymouth.